Is home health right for you?

If you're considering a job in home healthcare, ask yourself these questions to determine whether you'd be happy and successful in the field.

Is home health right for you?

Is a career in home healthcare right for you? The independence, one-on-one patient contact and flexibility appeal to many healthcare job seekers, but home health work isn't for everyone. If you're considering a job in home care, ask yourself the following questions -- courtesy of home health veterans -- to determine whether you'd be happy and successful in the field.

Can You Stomach the Responsibility?

A patient's life often depends on home care workers, whether they're home health aides, nurses, social workers or rehab therapists. "You just never know what you're walking into," says Susan Patillo, RN, BSN, of the Rutland Area Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice. "You could go in thinking a person is fine, and they're in respiratory distress."

Have You Honed Your Clinical Skills?

When an emergency such as respiratory distress does arise, a home care worker isn't surrounded by a team of healthcare professionals. For this reason, many home care professionals -- especially nurses -- have mastered basic clinical skills by working in an inpatient healthcare facility for a year or two before moving into home care. "In home care, there is really a huge range of skills you utilize on a daily basis," Patillo says. "You need to polish your clinical skills before going into home health."

Do You Have an Independent Streak?

Love it or loathe it, autonomy is the name of the game in home care. Although home health providers stay in touch via telephone and pagers, they spend many days without seeing coworkers or bosses face-to-face. Some home care workers can't hack the isolation and leave the field. "If you need a lot of supervision, you won't do so well in home care," says occupational therapist Diana Nelms, who works for Holy Redeemer Home Care and Hospice.

Are You Proactive?

Effective home health providers are also proactive, says Jodi Stokes, RN, of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cleveland. When Stokes needs to call a physician about a patient's condition, she offers the doctor specific suggestions about possible courses of actions. "Doctors don't want to hear, ‘Your patient's wound is worse. What should we do?'" she says. "Doctors want to hear, ‘Your patient's wound looks like this, and here's my recommendation.' The doctors want to be able to say ‘yes' or ‘no' to my suggestion rather than making the patient come in."

Do You Have Reliable Transportation?

Home care workers make multiple house calls a day regardless of the weather, so having a reliable car or access to reliable public transportation is essential, Nelms says.

Are You Respectful of Patients and Their Turf?

Strong social skills and a high level of sensitivity are required to work in patients' homes. "You have to take into consideration that they have the home-court advantage, and you have to be respectful of that," Nelms says. Dealing with patients' family members can also be touchy. "There are a lot more family dynamics to deal with in the home," she says. "If there's a caregiver involved, you're including them in the treatment plan and goals."

Adds Stokes: "You're working in the homes of patients of different ethnicities and cultures, and you have to be adaptable and personable with everyone."

Do You Want to Build Relationships?

Home care providers who love their jobs say the greatest rewards come from their patients. "In an institution, there is no chance to build up rapport with clients on a regular basis," says Taryn Birkmire, executive director of Recco Home Care Services and vice president of the Long Island chapter of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers. "An attractive feature of home care is that you are able to have that relationship. You can interact one-on-one with a patient instead of caring for a number of patients."

Plus, "seeing a patient flourish because of the care you've given them is something to be very proud of," says Birkmire.

Should You Test-Drive Home Care?

You can give home care a try without quitting your day job by taking some per diem assignments through an agency. Most people will know immediately whether they love home care or hate it. "There's no in-between," Patillo says.

Learn more about healthcare careers.