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How to Become an Ambulatory Care Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated September 8, 2023
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Find out how to become an ambulatory care nurse. Learn scope of practice, who qualifies, the steps required, and what AMB-BC certification is here.
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Ambulatory care nursing is a specialized type of nursing practice defined in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It involves caring for patients in an outpatient setting.

Becoming an ambulatory nurse takes between 2-4 years on average. Nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) qualify. There is a specialized certification called an Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (AMB-BC).

Requirements for AMB-BC certification include: a current, unencumbered U.S. RN license, two years’ experience working full time as an RN, 2,000 minimum clinical practice hours in ambulatory care, and 30 hours continuing education (CEUs) in ambulatory care in the past three years. RNs are not required to be certified to work as ambulatory care nurses.

Ambulatory care nurses require knowledge of many nursing skills, as the job often involves caring for patients of all ages. Many nurses find the variety and fast-paced nature of this role challenging and exciting.

What is an Ambulatory Care Nurse?

Ambulatory care nurses are RNs who provide nursing care to patients not admitted to a hospital. The role involves patient care in outpatient clinics, same-day surgery facilities, diagnostic settings, and via telehealth or community health settings.

These nurses need comprehensive, multidisciplinary clinical knowledge to properly assess and effectively provide nursing ‌care to a variety of patients, including adults, seniors, adolescents, children, community members, and others.

Ambulatory nurses often attend many patients in a short time span; the healthcare needs are widely varied, spanning from wellness visits to acute conditions and long-term (chronic) disorders and disabilities.

Steps to Becoming an Ambulatory Care Nurse

There are several steps to become an ambulatory care nurse:

  1. 1

    Earn an ADN or BSN Degree

    Consider the type of program that best meets your needs. Qualifying RN degrees include an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Many schools offer RN-to-BSN bridge programs, online programs, and/or traditional, four-year BSN programs.

    Getting a BSN involves identifying the school/program that best meets your needs, and submitting an application and other admission requirements (e.g., official transcripts, a current resume, letters of recommendation).

    The next steps include waiting for approval and applying for financial aid. Finally, complete all the course requirements, including clinical placements.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX to Receive RN Licensure

    The NCLEX-RN exam is a 265 question RN licensing test on managing and supervising patient care. It is an adaptive test. Nurses can take from 75 to 265 questions to pass. There are many online study guides and practice exams to help nursing graduates prepare for what to expect on the test.

    The steps to taking and passing the NCLEX exam include applying to register for the test, studying, taking the test at an official test center, and waiting approximately six weeks for exam results.

  3. 3

    Gain Clinical Nursing Experience

    Nurse graduates planning to work in ambulatory care need speciality skills. For example, a nurse working in oncology ambulatory care will need to learn specific skills related to providing support to patients after receiving cancer treatment.

    Many graduates planning to work in ambulatory care start their careers working in acute care facilities (i.e., hospitals) to gain the skill set for ambulatory care. Hospitals offer recent graduates special orientation and training programs, including mentorship with experienced nurses.

  4. 4

    Consider Becoming a Certified Ambulatory Care Nurse

    The specialty board certification that validates an RN’s level of knowledge in ambulatory care is called an Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (AMB-BC).

    The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers testing centers and online testing, and issues AMB-BC certifications to qualified RNs.

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Ambulatory Care Nurse Education

RNs qualify as ambulatory care nurses with an associate in nursing (ADN) degree or a bachelor’s degree (BSN).

ADN Degree

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree that requires between 60-75 credits for completion. The ADN is one of the fastest paths to becoming a registered nurse. An ADN involves courses that prepare nurses for passing the NCLEX-RN for RN licensure.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    A GED certificate or high school diploma with a 2.0 GPA, high school coursework in specific subjects, qualifying ACT and SAT scores, letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and applicable volunteer or work experience (e.g. CPR or first aid certification, volunteer work or a job as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    The curriculum includes coursework and clinical practicums that provide hands-on experience in a medical facility or a simulation lab. Examples of classes include nursing fundamentals, microbiology, health assessments, and various types of nursing specialties, such as pediatric and medical-surgical nursing.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    2 years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    The ability to plan and perform safe nursing practice and quality care, employing ethical and legal nursing practice, demonstrating clinical nursing skills, and more.

BSN Degree

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree that requires 120 credits for program completion. Nurses with a BSN can perform all the same clinical duties as an ASN, but a BSN opens doors for more career options, such as nurse administrative positions.

Types of BSN programs include traditional four-year programs, LPN-to-BSN, RN-to-BSN and Second Degree BSN Programs.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    Transcripts from high school or college, a GPA of 3.0 or higher for transfer credits, and a 2.5 or higher for high school graduates, and letter/s of recommendation. Some institutions require certain high school science courses such as anatomy and physiology or microbiology. Certain programs, such as the RN-to-BSN program, require an active RN license and a year or more of nursing experience.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    The curriculum includes courses on nursing informatics, psychology, research and statistics, pharmacology, and community health nursing. Students learn nursing skills with hands-on experience in clinical practicums in a hospital, clinic, or lab simulation setting.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    4 years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Nursing leadership, management, community health nursing and specialty areas of nursing care, such as pediatrics, OB/GYN, and geriatrics.

Ambulatory Care Nurse Licensure and Certification

Ambulatory care nurses must be licensed as RNs. There is an option for certification for ambulatory care nurses, but the designation is not required to work as an ambulatory care nurse.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center provides testing for board certified Ambulatory Care Nurse (AMB-BC) certification. Nurse graduates can apply for the testing year-round and test online to receive an authorization to test (ATT). Getting an ATT involves a three-hour, 150-question online test.

After receiving ATT, nurses may schedule their in-person exam at a testing center, or apply to take live remote certification tests online. Eligibility requirements for AMB-BC certification include:

  • A current, unencumbered U.S. RN license
  • Two years’ experience working full time as an RN
  • 2,000 minimum clinical practice hours in ambulatory care within the past three years
  • 30 hours continuing education (CEUs) in ambulatory care in the past three years.

All nursing certifications and licensures, including the RN license, require ongoing renewals; requirements vary by state. The AMB-BC certification must be renewed every five years.

Working as an Ambulatory Care Nurse

Ambulatory care nurses perform different job duties, depending on the setting.

  • check-circle

    Urgent Care Facilities

    Ambulatory care nurses perform patient assessments, help with diagnostic testing (e.g. urinalysis, and other collection measures), assist in procedures, and provide patient teaching.

  • check-circle

    Outpatient Clinics

    Require a wide variety of nursing skills, depending on the type of practice. Ambulatory care nurses working in pediatrics often administer vaccines and other types of medications, whereas those in cardiology practices need knowledge of specialized equipment, such as EKG monitors.

    These nurses perform intake assessments, provide follow-up care, and coordinate with other healthcare providers when referring patients to other clinics, diagnostic centers or services (e.g., the X-ray department or physical therapy).

  • check-circle

    Ambulatory Care Centers

    Require specialized nursing skills. Specific types of care include inserting IV catheters, administering medications, and providing close observation to ensure patients meet protocols for safe discharge after same-day surgical procedures.

    The average yearly salary potential for ambulatory care nurses is around $93,070. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an RN’s average annual salary is $82,750.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Ambulatory Care Nurse

question-mark-circleWhat do nurses do in ambulatory care?

Ambulatory care nurses perform a wide variety of duties and care for patients across the lifespan, from neonates to geriatric patients.

Nursing care includes providing patient education across many topics. They often manage patient care in medical clinics, dialysis units, same-day surgery centers, diagnostic facilities, or via telehealth.

question-mark-circleAre ambulatory care nurses in demand?

Yes. According to the BLS, the growth rate for ambulatory care nurses is projected to increase by 9% from 2020 to 2030.

question-mark-circleWhat skills are important for ambulatory care?

Skills required for ambulatory care nurses include assessment (i.e., paying close attention to details), a sense of empathy, good verbal and written communication skills, and a high level of stamina.

question-mark-circleIs ambulatory care the same as ER?

No, the emergency room (ER) is primarily for patients in need of urgent/emergency care. Many patients are admitted to the hospital directly from the ER.

Ambulatory care does not involve care for patients who stay overnight in a healthcare facility. However, an urgent care facility that provides acute care and discharges patients on the same day is considered ambulatory care.

Page last reviewed on June 5, 2022

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