Eileen M. Esposito, DNP, RN-BC, CPHQ
Director, American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing Board of Directors
Ambulatory care nurses are highly trained and skilled healthcare experts who practice in outpatient settings including health centers, government institutions, universities, military clinics, and communities. They work as clinicians, telehealth nurses, care coordinators, researchers, educators, administrators, and top-level executives.
Telehealth nursing, in particular, has moved to the forefront in care during the pandemic. This area of ambulatory care nursing practice has become critical, as nurses are urgently needed to support the most vulnerable patients — often elderly people struggling to manage chronic conditions at home.
Similarly, there has been an increased focus on population and public health nursing. These ambulatory care nurses have advanced knowledge of populations and communities of people with chronic healthcare needs, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. These nurses strive for better and equal community health, keenly aware that age, race, and poverty can prevent access to care.
Telehealth and community nursing are just two examples of how care has moved increasingly from inpatient to outpatient settings in the United States, boosting the scope and number of career opportunities for nurses outside of acute care.As a result, nurses can choose from an expanding variety of settings that include private medical and surgical practices, ambulatory surgery centers, university health services, school-based clinics, community clinics, workplace health services, home care, and hospice. More adventurous nurses can choose to practice on cruise ships, as helicopter flight nurses, or for an ambulance trauma service.
Most nurses entering a career in ambulatory care nursing hold an entry-level B.S. or B.S.N. degree. This degree prepares them to quickly assimilate to the majority of work environments. Nurses who want to specialize in telehealth, care coordination and transition management, and home care often reach out to professional organizations like the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) for support in learning and developing the necessary new skills, and to connect with a network of colleagues who can help open career doors.
Ascending the ranks
As nurses progress in their careers, they often seek leadership positions, such as nurse manager, director, or clinical administrator. These positions often require a master’s degree to broaden knowledge of business operations, budgeting, and strategic planning.
Many ambulatory care nurse leaders finish their careers as senior executives, vice presidents, CNOs, CEOs, and board members. These nurse leaders often complement their career with an advanced degree such as D.N.P. or Ph.D. In these high-level roles, the visibility of nurses as decision-makers is raised and these leaders are well-positioned to represent the concerns of — and respect for — nurses worldwide. Having a “seat at the table” with other executives helps assure issues like patient safety, quality care, and optimal nurse staffing are top priorities, and that decision-making reflects nurses’ unique insights and visions.The pandemic has intensified the need for quality healthcare providers and exposed areas of the healthcare system that are in dire need of immediate attention. This means nurses — who have the drive, knowledge, and passion to step into positions from entry-level to leadership — are more critical to patient health than ever before.