What is an Ambulatory Care Nurse?

Deciding on a specialty area in nursing may lead you to ask questions about becoming an ambulatory care nurse. As you might surmise from the name, ambulatory care refers to medical care for patients who usually “walk into” a clinic or other outpatient care area. While many nurses work in a hospital or inpatient setting, those nurses who work in outpatient type facilities are referred to as ambulatory nurses. The term can encompass a wide variety of nursing jobs and specialty areas. While nurses in an inpatient setting may work with patients over a period of days, ambulatory nurses usually work with patients who are seeking care that will last less than 24 hours. Such patients may come into a clinic, a doctor’s office, or other healthcare facility set up to handle outpatient care.

Becoming An Ambulatory Nurse

Like other types of nursing, ambulatory nursing requires that you become a registered nurse (RN) which means obtaining a nursing degree, generally a four-year one, and then taking and passing the national licensing exam for nurses. Once you have done that and worked for at least two years as an RN, you can sit for a certification exam as an ambulatory care nurse if you have completed the appropriate number of relevant clinical and educational hours deemed necessary for eligibility. You can learn more about the exam requirements, and about ambulatory nursing care in general, at the website of theĀ American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AACN).

Settings and Types of Work

As already mentioned, ambulatory nurses can work in a wide variety of outpatient medical settings. This might include places such as doctor’s offices or outpatient clinics connected to hospitals, but it could also include settings such as schools, prisons, or workplaces. Generally any place where patients can come in for assessment and nonacute care would qualify as a setting for ambulatory care. Although traditionally, ambulatory nurses do see patients who do not have acute care needs, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges in this practice area. Ambulatory nurses have to be skilled at a wide range of assessment and care because they can see a large number of patients over a short period of time, and you never know just what types of issues a patient may be presenting.

A newer facet of work that some ambulatory care nurses are involved in today is what is known as telehealth nursing. Telehealth refers to nursing done via various kinds of telecommunications with patients over a long distance. As technology improves, this kind of nursing gives patients in areas without much healthcare access the opportunity to talk with nurses and other medical caregivers who can assess their needs, help them think through care options and locate resources, or promote health education.

Related Resource: Nephrology Nurse

The role of ambulatory nursing is an important one and evolving as healthcare and its delivery continues to change within the U.S. Reading over information from the AACN can help you to see some of the differences between traditional and current understandings of ambulatory care. Whether a patient is seeking immediate needed care or learning how to manage an illness, an ambulatory care nurse can play an important role in helping a patient get and stay well.