Ambulatory Care Nurse Career Overview

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read
Reviewed by Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
Ambulatory Care Nurse Career Overview

Ambulatory care is any type of care that does not require an overnight stay or hospital admission, from minor surgery to medical testing. Ambulatory care nurses are responsible for providing much of the care in these settings.

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 under the supervision of 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).

Health Systems
Ambulatory care nurses help conduct medical testing, assist with outpatient procedures, and educate patients on caring for minor injuries or illnesses.
Physician Offices
Ambulatory care nurses communicate with patients on their condition and any follow-up care, perform patient intake, and coordinate with other healthcare professionals.
Ambulatory Care Centers
Ambulatory care nurses help treat acute and chronic conditions, undertake tasks such as administering IV 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

  • Less exposure to serious conditions than inpatient nursing
  • Schedules and workloads more predictable than for inpatient care
  • High demand and above-average salaries

Disadvantages to Becoming an Ambulatory Care Nurse

  • Fewer opportunities to make a dramatic difference in patients' lives than in inpatient nursing
  • Possible burnout due to overscheduling or working overtime
  • Limited 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 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 2019 median annual salary for all nurses was $75,330, compared to $41,950 for all professions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% growth in jobs for all RNs from 2019-2029. However, medical or technical advances, such as minimal invasive procedures like laparoscopic surgery, may have a transformative effect and convert more inpatient procedures to outpatient procedures, leading to additional growth in ambulatory nursing jobs.

Find State-Specific Salary Data Here

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an ambulatory care nurse? 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.
What is the difference between ambulatory care and outpatient services? 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).
What career advancement opportunities are available for ambulatory care nurses? 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.
Do ambulatory care nurses provide telehealth services to patients? Telehealth is a growing part of ambulatory care nursing, especially for patients who because of distance, lack of transportation, or physical limitations, cannot easily visit a healthcare facility. Outpatient nurses may provide health monitoring or patient education through telehealth.

Resources for Ambulatory Care Nurses

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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Reviewed by:

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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