When asked what an ambulatory care nurse does, many nurses aren’t aware that such a specialty exists. What may be labeled as simply a nurse that used to work in a hospital, but who left to work in a doctor’s office, is an actual specialty in nursing practice. Ambulatory nursing has a professional society (the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nurses), practice stands, certification and evidence-based practice standards.
Ambulatory care nurses work in a variety of settings, including primary care clinics, outpatient surgery centers, federal and state correctional facilities, home health settings, schools, dialysis centers, hospice facilities and community health centers. Any non-hospital setting where a patient walks in and walks out may be defined as an ambulatory care center.
The skills needed by an ambulatory care nurse differ from a hospital-based nurse. Triage, delegation and emergency management are all different in a non-hospital setting. Because of the economic downturn and many patients losing their insurance, an increasing number of people are afraid of incurring high bills by going to the hospital and instead show up at their doctors’ offices presenting with life-threatening situations such as heart attacks and strokes. Therefore ambulatory nurses need to know how to advise patients in a multitude of situations.
The relationship that ambulatory care nurses develop with their patients takes place over a long period of time. Due to the short, but more frequent interactions with patients, nurses may see the same patients over the course of many years and come to know other members of the family as well; something a hospital-based nurse doesn’t always have the opportunity to experience.
The Affordable Care Act is bringing change to the model of ambulatory care nursing. More nurses will need to coordinate care, manage chronic diseases and use telehealth technology. Patient volumes are expected to increase as more patients have access to care and home health care becomes more prevalent. Patients will look to nurses to help them navigate the new care models that are based on care teams.
More jobs for ambulatory care nurses will open up as hospitals hire fewer nurses and outpatient services become the basis of more patient care. Management of chronic diseases will need fewer hospital-based interventions as treatment becomes more sophisticated.
In the past, new graduate nurses were not able to obtain jobs in ambulatory care settings due to a lack of general knowledge, but that rule is changing.