Home care, visiting nursing, community nurse…we are called many things. But that doesn’t change what we do. Nurses who make home visits, regardless of what we call ourselves, are all the same and have the best nursing job on earth.
I became a nurse for many reasons (see my previous post for details). I knew I needed a job right away so I interviewed A LOT. It quickly became apparent that I had some problems. First of all, I couldn’t work nights, this was non-negotiable. I was a single mother, and I had no one to watch my kids. This made me very unattractive to hospitals. I also didn’t want to work on Shabbos (Saturday), also a problem. I needed reasonable hours and/or something close to home (see single mother excuse). I wasn’t discouraged while I was going to all of my interviews and not getting any offers, I knew something was going to come up.
I got an offer from a staffing company to work per diem at their flu shot clinics. Back in the old days before CVS and Walgreens started giving flu shots, they used to hire companies to staff flu shot clinics at their stores. I went to pharmacies and large businesses and gave many, many flu shots. One woman complained that I didn’t really give her a shot (I did). She said it didn’t hurt at all and therefore I must be lying about giving her the shot. I told her it didn’t hurt because I’m REALLY good at giving flu shots. She didn’t buy it. After that moment I changed my pre-shot speech. Instead of giving the usual list of possible complications and contraindications I added, “the shot may not hurt, but if you want it to, I can arrange that.”
Eventually I was offered a spot in a training program at a home care agency. It was a dream come true (thanks to Sammy and Aviva). The program offered in class training for several months and then orientation in the field and a gradually increasing workload to productivity. It was a challenging time and I made plenty of mistakes but I made it through. I learned quickly that I had the perfect job. I stayed at that job for three years and my next home care position for three years and am at my current position for one year. I NEVER want to leave.
When you see a hospital nurse she is really busy, focused and usually very serious. Home care nurses are always smiling, why is that?
My patients often ask me about my family and how many children I have. Then they all ask exactly the same question, “When do you relax?” “I’m relaxing right now”, I tell them. That is not a joke.
No one was looking over my shoulder. That may sound like a bad thing when you’re a new nurse, but it wasn’t. I may not have done things perfectly right on the first try, but I figured things out. Coming to the solution on my own was very satisfying and exciting as a new nurse. I had a supervisor and case managers in the office who could sometimes answer my questions when I could get them on the phone, but I learned not to bother.
I don’t just see patients in their homes. I have done new employee orientation, HHA classes, chart audits, quality control, community lectures, staff education and competencies. Sometimes its nice to spend some times in the office.
I decide when to see each patient. If the patient isn’t available when I want to see them (most were, they were usually homebound) we would chose another option that worked for both of us on a different day/time. This meant that I could go home and eat lunch…or go out for lunch (which nurses get to actually eat?). It also meant that I could schedule doctor appointments for myself or my kids and plan my patients around that appointment…or my kids school play, or a teacher conference, or a trip to the mechanic to get an oil change, or the post office. How do working mothers get things done?
3. The patients
I can sit with my patient for an hour talking about; the photographs on their walls, the numbers on their arm, what they’re cooking on the stove, the work they did “before”, the origin of their last name, their garden, their dog, their paintings, their piano…Of course I discuss their medical history but only after we have made friends. Why would I do it any other way? If I do a good job and I ask the right questions, most of my home and health assessment has been completed before I ask any of the questions on my nursing assessment. My patients are happy to share personal details with me because they trust me. When I teach new nurses I remind them that we are a guest in the patient’s home. We must ask permission before we sit down or place our bag on a chair.
4. The stories
My patients share the stories of their lives with me. Stories of immigration, illness, happiness and sadness. They trust me with the stories that make them who they are. I have met some truly amazing people who have experienced truly wondrous things. I am always humbled by the gifts they give me in the form of memories.
5. The money
The money is comparable to hospital nursing and the opportunity for overtime is usually available depending on the type of agency you work for. Even if your agency does not have overtime availability you can work for other home care agencies per diem while you are working full time for another. I have done this and it has created quite a financial opportunity for me.
6. The nursing
I have treated a wide variety of health issues. No matter what you may hear, home care IS real nursing. Wounds, staples, trachs, PEGs, foleys, sutures, vents, amputations and many more.
I may see a patient two or three times, or I may see them daily for years. Either way I am invited into their life. In this environment I have the ability to help my patients make real changes and I have the honor of watching it happen.