Rural Nursing

Job Requirements: Provide healthcare services to patients in geographic areas with small populations or in remote locations.

Education Requirements: Associate's degree

Rural NurseNursing is a demanding profession, requiring a delicate balance of skill, education and interpersonal care that is unmatched by most other careers. Nurses provide medical care, advise and educate patients and act as hands-on liaisons between doctors, insurance companies and those with health concerns. The scope of a nurse’s job can vary, depending on several factors including location. These variances in location provide unique healthcare situations for the professional nurse, from urban communities to rural areas, and everywhere in between.

A rural nurse provides healthcare services to a wide range of people. These nurses are often responsible for large geographic areas with small populations, and are expected to understand the general care of patients from infancy through the twilight years. As a specialized generalist, a rural nurse must be able to know how to treat patients, as well as provide information for referrals to physicians, hospitals or clinics when medical care is outside the nurse’s scope of expertise, ability and location. Many rural nurses are expected to understand the nuances of these underserved populations, from American Indians in North Dakota to the Amish population in Pennsylvania or any other communities across the country. Rural nurses may be, in fact, members of these communities, or have personal insight into the lifestyles of these populations, and may return after completing a program at a college, university or online nursing school in order to give back to the community in which they were raised.

Telehealth devices and health information technology and informatics are rapidly becoming solutions to the shortage of qualified nurses available in rural areas.  These computer-driven devices give rural nurses the power to monitor, and in some cases, diagnose and treat patients over long distances.

Rural nursing is one of the hardest-hit areas of the nursing shortage. Not only are significantly less nurses available to provide health services overall, but the incoming cohorts of new nurses may be attracted to bigger cities and hospitals over rural areas. Because of this trend toward urban and suburban areas, more states are recognizing the need to provide incentives for those considering a career in rural nursing, or to retain current nurses in rural areas. States like Illinois, Alaska and Arizona have specific programs to attract rural nurses, and federal agencies like the Bureau of Health Professions offer scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to those pursuing a career focused on rural nursing.

Between the nursing shortage, the lack of adequate medical care in rural populations and even the Affordable Healthcare Act, the need for nurses in underserved areas is growing. Rural nursing requires the special skills of a nurse who can relate to populations that may not receive constant medical care, due to location, economic status or other community lifestyles.

by Linda Bright

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