Long-Term Care Nurse: Education and Career Information
If you’re one of those people who cares for those who are disabled or need extended care, you may be well suited for a career as a long-term care nurse. A profession that is in high demand, these nurses are the backbone of caring for patients that have been admitted into residential facilities because they are too sick to remain at home or cannot care for themselves. They are also able to care for patients at their homes, and serve as a support system for families and other caregivers.
What does a long-term care nurse do?
A long term care nurse coordinates the care of patients and provides physical and psychological support to those patients and their families. The liaison between physical therapists, speech language pathologists, case managers, occupational therapists, social workers, dietitians, respiratory therapist, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, they are present across the patient’s life span. These nurses usually care for patients that are elderly, have hypertension, coronary artery disease, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other more serious complications such as AIDS. They are able to take vital signs, perform intravenous therapy, tracheostomy care, CPR, catheter care, respiratory therapy and other skills required for this position. They also assist with feeding, bathing and dressing when needed. You will find these nurses in nursing homes, retirement homes, hospice centers, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals.
How much does a long-term care nurse earn?
On average, a long-term care nurse makes about $80,000, but can make a lot more when working for private clients. This salary also varies based on education, years of experience and location. There is room for advancement in this position. A long-term care director at a facility can make between $99,680 and $101,795, on average. Because this is a growing profession in high demand, salaries will become competitive.
What types of skills are needed to become a long-term care nurse?
Compassion: First and foremost, a long-term care nurse must have a high degree of compassion, for both the patient and their families. Individuals who are in a situation where they have to allow the assistance of a long-term care nurse are usually emotional and may be going through a lot of pain. The transition into a long-term care facility may be hard for both the patient and their family. Even if the patient is in their own home, not being able to function as they once did can be very troubling.
Medical: A long-term care nurse must be able to perform certain functions, such as administering an IV, understanding how to tube feed, the use of ventilators and other technical equipment needed to successfully perform the duties of this position.
Coordination: A high degree of coordination is required for this position, as there are a number of doctors and other healthcare professionals that may be involved in the care of the patient. Being able to take care of patient needs, appointments, files and other requirements of patient care is important. A high attention to detail is crucial.
Critical Thinking: It is essential to be able to think critically when caring for a long-term care patient. There are a number of ailments that may be at work, and knowing how to properly care for the patient, and doing all you can to make them as comfortable as possible is key. The long-term care nurse must be able to think quick on their feet, and know when to contact the healthcare professional.
Good Judgment: Based on patient history and what occurs during their care, the long-term nurse should be able to exercise good judgment in making decisions that will benefit the patient and their family for the betterment of their care. This could be something simple like taking them for a walk everyday to keep the level of activity high, to rotating them on the bed every couple of hours.
Communication: A long-term nurse must be able to properly communicate with the patient, their family members, and all healthcare professionals that are involved in the patient’s care plan. The nurse must be able to disseminate the right information to ensure the patient is well taken care of and is comfortable as possible.
Technology: Although a long-term care nurse mostly deals with patients who cannot function on their own, knowing how to use the technology needed to keep everyone on the same page is key. The nurse must be able to use the computer, electronic health record, and other technology that will assist the healthcare professional, but make their lives easier.
There are clinical requirements for the four-year program of study, which increase with each additional level of education. Some of these clinical requirements are hands-on in a facility, but the amount of hours required are based on the program. Some programs may not have as many as others, but getting as much experience as you can will be beneficial to your success.
In order to become a long-term care nurse, the student must first enter into an RN program. This could be via a certificate program or through a four-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. This program is very detailed and rigorous, ensuring the student has the proper foundation to succeed in the future and pass the necessary nursing exams. Students in this program must take anatomy, physiology, psychology, biology and other related coursework. Taking elective classes in geriatrics and long-term care is also highly recommended.
Once the student has completed the program, they must sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain a nursing license. Once the student obtains the nursing license and begins working, obtaining a Master’s degree is the next step. This is an additional two years of education. Some nurses also continue on with their education and receive their Ph.D. or NHP degrees, which are an additional two to four years. Obtaining certification in long-term care is offered by the American Association for Long Term Care Nursing (AALTCN). A certification program is needed in order to be able to sit for the exam.
There are many organizations available for nurses who wish to pursue this career path. The American Society on Aging, the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, and the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care are just a few.
This is a very rewarding career path for those who have a desire to care for those who no longer can care for themselves, or are at the end of their lifespan. It is very comforting to know there is someone who has a high level of compassion and can deal with families in these tough situations. If you pursue this career option, you will be greatly rewarded.