When nurses talk about nursing as a career, they mention flexibility, the continual opportunity to learn new skills, and the profound satisfaction of caring for others as motivation. Nurses also say they can't imagine another career that allows them the freedom to use their skills in such varied settings.
Even new nurses, who traditionally gravitate towards a first job on a med/surge unit, are realizing they can broaden their job search to include many different facilities and situations to gain the varied experience they need.
Lori Gutierrez, BS, RN-C*, DON-CLTC, and a teaching affiliate and clinical educator with the American Association for Long Term Care Nursing (AALTCN), says long-term care facilities offer nurses a chance to use all their skills and develop some new ones they will use wherever their career path takes them.
“Long-term care is a great field and specialty area,” she says. Some nurses choose to look elsewhere for jobs because they don't consider what the facility has to offer or the patient population it serves, says Gutierrez. But the need for quality long-term care nurses is growing. With a steadily aging baby boomer population, long-term care facilities, whether as a nursing home or a rehabilitation facility, are seeing a increase in the number of patients and the acuity of the patients.
Nurses in long-term care facilities work with patients who have varied medical issues. “A long-term care facility can have anyone,” says Gutierrez, even children. Pediatric care facilities work with infants to young adults. Other facilities need skilled care for the youngest to the oldest patients and everyone in between. And many long-term care facilities work with people with multiple co-morbidities, says Gutierrez. They might have a brain injury, cerebral palsy, a ventilator – all of which require nurses to use a range of capabilities.
Using all those skills, especially if your first job is in long-term care, is an excellent opportunity to increase your skill set and to perfect what you do. In doing so, you become an appealing job candidate. “You won't find a NICU or an ER who will hire without experience,” Gutierrez says. “Hospitals want experience. This is a great chance to get your feet wet.”
If you choose to investigate long-term care nursing opportunities, Gutierrez recommends looking for a skilled nursing facility with some kind of residency program or an orientation program for new grads. Finding a facility that understands new grads' needs will help you get up to speed faster, take on more responsibility, and perform better, thereby giving the best care possible.
“This is a great learning opportunity for nurses to have sharp skills,” says Gutierrez. “You have to know what you are doing with the patient population.”
And long-term care offers nurses the chance to get to know their patients and develop a relationship with them. Acute care stays typically last 2.3 days, says Gutierrez, while a longer care facility stay might last from 14 to 21 days. In a nursing home, nurses frequently interact with a patient’s family, too. And for patients who have no family close by, nurses become part of that extended network that provides not just medical care, but companionship.
And while it's true that long-term care facilities aren't as automated as most acute-care facilities, Gutierrez says it's not necessarily a negative. “The skill sets nurses need continue to sharpen,” says Gutierrez. “There's no IV team, so you take your own blood draws. There are things hospital nurses take for granted. There's no rapid response team. You're it.”
As with any specialty, targeted training will only help you become a great nurse. “The AALTCN encourages nurses to obtain a national certification,” says Gutierrez. “It's a specialty and nurses should be proud of long-term care nursing and the services we provide to a patient.”