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Ambulatory Care Nurse Career Overview

Ann Feeney, CAE
Updated July 10, 2023
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    If you are curious about outpatient care, discover the field of ambulatory care nursing and how to become an ambulatory care nurse below.
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    how long to become

    job outlook

    job outlook9% growth from 2020-2030For All Registered Nurses (RNs)

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$77,600 (for all RNs)SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Ambulatory Care Nurse Career in Brief

    ADN or BSN required

    Ambulatory care nurses, sometimes called outpatient nurses, educate patients, perform tests and health monitoring, and provide treatment working with a physician or advanced practice nurse. They may be specialists or generalists. Ambulatory care nurses may also supervise nursing assistants.

    Ambulatory care duties include the following:

    Primary Responsibilities

    • Ensuring patient safety and efficacy of care
    • Educating patients on their condition
    • Collaborating with healthcare teams
    • Performing diagnostic tests

    Key Skills

    • Attention to detail
    • Empathy
    • Communication skills
    • Stamina

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    Where Do Ambulatory Care Nurses Work?

    Ambulatory care nursing can take place in any healthcare setting except for inpatient care. In 2017, 9.4% of nurses worked in an ambulatory setting making it the second-most popular employment setting for registered nurses (RNs).

    • minusHealth Systems

      Ambulatory care nurses help conduct medical testing, assist with outpatient procedures, and educate patients on caring for minor injuries or illnesses.

    • minusPhysician Offices

      Ambulatory care nurses communicate with patients on their condition and any follow-up care, perform patient intake, and coordinate with other healthcare professionals.

    • minusAmbulatory Care Centers

      Ambulatory care nurses help treat acute and chronic conditions, undertake tasks such as administering intravenous medication and monitoring patients during and after treatment, and ensure patients are safe to go home after same-day procedures.

    Why Become an Ambulatory Care Nurse?

    Ambulatory care nursing generally involves less exposure to serious conditions or injuries, and the demands on ambulatory care nurses are more steady and predictable. However, ambulatory care nurses spend less time with patients, and consequently, can feel they are making minimal impact on patients’ lives. Additionally, working conditions can still be hectic and contribute to burnout. Check below for more advantages and disadvantages.

    Advantages to Becoming an Ambulatory Care Nurse

    • check-circleLess exposure to serious conditions than inpatient nursing
    • check-circleSchedules and workloads more predictable than for inpatient care
    • check-circleHigh demand and above-average salaries

    Disadvantages to Becoming an Ambulatory Care Nurse

    • x-circleFewer opportunities to make a dramatic difference in patients’ lives than in inpatient nursing
    • x-circlePossible burnout due to overscheduling or working overtime
    • x-circleLimited professional autonomy for RNs

    How to Become an Ambulatory Care Nurse

    Ambulatory care nurses typically hold either an associate degree or bachelor’s in nursing with an RN license, but there are opportunities for advancement through certifications or earning a graduate degree.

    Earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

    A BSN program takes four years, compared to two years for an ADN, but is required for some higher-level ambulatory care nurse positions and to become an advanced practice nurse.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive nursing licensure.

    The National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) is a computer adaptive national exam that covers among other topics health promotion and maintenance, providing a safe, effective patient care environment, and pharmacology.

    Gain clinical nursing experience in ambulatory care.

    Most employers require ambulatory care nurses to have 1-2 years of either intensive care unit or postanesthesia care unit experience. Outpatient nurses then can work in a variety of settings and some may choose to specialize in particular types of care.

    Become board certified in ambulatory care nursing (AMB-BC).

    Certain employers may require or prefer ambulatory care certification. The AMB-BC requires two years of experience as an RN, 3,000 hours in ambulatory care, and 30 hours of continuing education.

    How Much Do Ambulatory Care Nurses Make?

    Ambulatory nurse salaries vary based on credentials, certifications, responsibilities, geographic location, and work setting. The 2021 median annual salary for all nurses was $77,600, compared to $45,760 for all professions.

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9% growth in jobs for all RNs from 2020-2030. However, medical or technical advances, such as minimal invasive procedures like laparoscopic surgery, may convert more inpatient procedures to outpatient procedures, leading to additional growth in ambulatory nursing jobs.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    It takes two years to earn an ADN and four to earn a BSN. Certification requires at least two years of experience as an RN. Advanced practice nurses, like nurse practitioners, need a master’s in nursing, which takes at least two years.

    Some providers do not distinguish between the two since neither involves admission to a hospital or healthcare facility. However, others make the distinction that ambulatory care involves a same-day procedure or treatment of some kind, while outpatient services do not require a visit or treatment (e.g., telehealth would be considered as an outpatient service).

    Ambulatory care nurses can gain advancement by becoming advanced practice RNs, such as nurse practitioners, which requires a graduate degree. Advanced practice nurses are licensed to diagnose conditions and prescribe treatments. However, ambulatory care nurses can also advance through certification, either in ambulatory care or other specializations.

    Telehealth is a growing part of ambulatory care nursing, especially for patients who lack transportation or have physical limitations and cannot easily visit a healthcare facility. Outpatient nurses may provide health monitoring or patient education through telehealth.

    Resources for Ambulatory Care Nurses

    • American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing

      The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing provides standards and core curriculum for ambulatory care and care coordination and transition; issues publications; administers scholarship and awards programs; hosts a job board; and offers networking opportunities for RNs engaged in ambulatory care.
    • American Board of Urgent Care Medicine

      The American Board of Urgent Care Medicine is an independent certifying body for urgent care medicine. Though it certifies only physicians, the organization offers a job board and general resources for those interested in urgent care.
    • Ambulatory Surgery Center Association

      The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association conducts advocacy promoting ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) as part of the healthcare infrastructure; reports on federal and state legislation and regulations that affect ASCs; directs benchmarking research; and provides continuing education on management and clinical care.

    Related Pages

    Reviewed by:

    Portrait of Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

    Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

    Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

    Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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