Ambulatory care nursing is a specialty where patients receive medical attention outside of a hospital setting. The chief focus of this practice area is pain management, primary and preventive care, and general health education for patients suffering from chronic injuries or illnesses. Ambulatory care nurses work in a variety of environments encompassing community health and urgent care clinics, infusion and dialysis centers, and managed care facilities. Additionally, you will find ambulatory care nurses in telehealth, home health, and occupational health roles.
Advances in technology have allowed more medical procedures to be performed at outpatient sites, which has in turn increased the need for ambulatory care nurses and created many opportunities for RNs to make the transition away from traditional, hospital-based nursing. The primary difference between ambulatory care nursing and healthcare in a clinical setting is patient flow. Instead of seeing a select group of patients on a daily basis until they are discharged, ambulatory care nurses see patients sporadically and conduct short examinations for as little as 15 minutes at a time. Ambulatory care nurses often fill an advisory role, helping patients make informed decisions about their health rather than attending to them directly.
Frequently the ambulatory care nurse functions as both coordinator and practitioner. Instead of serving on a specific unit with a team of peers under the supervision of a charge nurse or nurse manager, it is not uncommon for an ambulatory care nurse to be the only RN on staff and they may be required to make rapid assessments and decisions for patients presenting with symptoms of heart attack, anaphylaxis, or stroke.
Becoming an ambulatory care nurse requires a nursing diploma, ASN, or BSN combined with RN licensure and further certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This career path has a bright future; with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of new patients have been added to the healthcare system, significantly boosting the demand for qualified healthcare providers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 19% growth for RNs from 2012 to 2022 and many hospitals are hiring fewer full-time nurses, which means RNs looking for lucrative positions will be turning to ambulatory care nursing. Indeed, a look at average annual salary shows ambulatory care nurses at the higher end of the spectrum at $62K, trailing only primary care RNs ($86K) and emergency department nurses ($64K) in earning power.