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How to Become a Long-Term Care Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 10, 2023
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Long-term care nurses provide care in nursing homes and other facilities. Learn how to become a long-term care nurse and what the work is like in this guide.
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A nurse who manages the physical condition of the elderly in a long-term care facilityCredit: kazuma seki / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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Long-term care nurses attend patients in nursing homes and residential care facilities, as well as in-home settings.

Becoming a long-term care nurse lets you develop relationships with patients, often providing the opportunity to holistically assist with their needs. Building these relationships may create a sense of fulfillment.

This guide describes how to become a long-term care nurse and what the work is like. Keep reading for more on this vital nursing career.

What Is a Long-Term Care Nurse?

Long-term care nurses attend patients receiving extended care for chronic or serious conditions. Most long-term care nursing happens in nursing homes and other residential care settings, but long-term care nurses may also work in home health or hospice settings.

Typical responsibilities include monitoring patient health and well-being, updating medical records, administering medication, providing wound care, and giving patients and their loved ones emotional support.

Steps to Becoming a Long-Term Care Nurse

  1. 1

    Earn an ADN or BSN degree

    An associate degree in nursing (ADN) takes two years, while a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) takes four years. The BSN takes more time, but many employers prefer it for higher-level positions. However, once you have an ADN and nursing experience, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX to Receive RN Licensure

    The NCLEX-RN covers all aspects of nursing, including practical skills, injury and disease prevention, nursing safety, patient and team communication, and legality and ethics.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Long-Term or Gerontological Care

    As an aspiring entry-level long-term care nurse, expect extensive training on the job. In addition to a long-term care facility, you could also develop valuable skills in hospice nursing or geriatric nursing.

  4. 4

    Consider Pursuing a Specialty Certification

    Becoming a long-term care nurse does not require certification, but certification demonstrates knowledge in a particular area and commitment to professional development.

    Depending on your preferred specialty, you may be interested in gerontological nursing certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or dementia practice certification from the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP).

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Long-Term Nurse Education

Choosing how to become a long-term care nurse depends on your goals and circumstances. The fastest way is earning a two-year ADN, but many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN for higher-level positions.

A BSN also prepares you to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) and become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse practitioner (NP).

ADN Degree

An ADN takes two years, compared to four years for a BSN. Tuition and fees are often much lower, and many programs have open admission or lower admission requirements than BSN degrees.

Because a BSN includes more material and experience, many employers prefer the BSN, especially for advanced or leadership positions.

MSN programs require either a BSN or enrolling in an RN-to-MSN program. The latter takes longer than a stand-alone MSN.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; math and science courses; may require a 2.0 or higher GPA

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Nursing skills, taking vital signs and conducting tests, nursing hygiene and infection control, safety, how healthcare works, and legal and ethical topics

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Two years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Monitoring patients, assessing patients, updating health records, and more

BSN Degree

You can earn a BSN degree at many public and private colleges, including online schools. While it takes four years — twice as long as an ADN — a BSN might be more valuable for leadership positions or preparation to earn an MSN. Admission to the most prestigious programs can be very competitive.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; math and science courses; typically a 3.0 GPA

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Theory of nursing, nursing skills, nursing safety, evidence-based practice, communication, nursing leadership, and legal and ethical topics

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Four years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Monitoring and assessing patients, maintaining a safe environment, applying evidence-based practices, leading and supervising teams, effective communications, and more

Long-Term Care Nurse Licensure and Certification

Certification is not legally required for long-term care nursing, but can be valuable. Depending on your workplace and goals, you may want to explore ANCC certifications such as pain management or gerontological nursing, or the NCCDP’s dementia practice certification.

The ANCC certifications both require two years of experience as an RN and 2,000 hours in the specific certification area. The ANCC also requires 30 hours of continued professional education.

The dementia practice certification requires attending a one-day training and other educational and work requirements, depending on the track.

Working as a Long-Term Care Nurse

Once you graduate, you can gain experience in gerontology care, hospice/palliative care, or another long-term care setting.

In an assisted living or nursing home, your responsibilities include helping residents maintain their health and daily functioning as long as possible. Hospice or palliative care instead emphasize keeping patients comfortable and providing emotional support.

Long-term care nurse salaries will vary based on local demand and cost of living, experience, education and certification, and other factors. Salary.com reports a median annual salary of $76,500 for long-term care RNs, with the top 10% earning $93,064 or more, and the lowest 10% earning $59,535 or more.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Long-Term Care Nurse

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a long-term care nurse?

Becoming a long-term care nurse takes at least two years to earn an ADN degree and pass the NCLEX-RN. It takes four years to earn a BSN degree, but that can be a more valuable degree over time.

question-mark-circleWhat skills and qualifications do you need to become a long-term care nurse?

In addition to the standard skills and qualifications for any RN position, becoming a long-term care nurse requires working well with near-terminal and terminal patients. You must be simultaneously empathetic and professional, and able to discuss death and dying with patients and families. Working with patients who have dementia requires considerable patience and flexibility.

question-mark-circleIs long-term care nursing a demanding career?

Like all hands-on nursing jobs, long-term care nursing is physically demanding. Emotionally, it can be draining, as many of your patients will not get better, and many are terminal. Long-term care patients may have dementia, which can be exhausting to work with. However, providing excellent care can also be emotionally rewarding, because you are helping patients at their most vulnerable.

question-mark-circleDo long-term care nurses get paid well?

Nurse salaries, including long-term care nurse salaries, are well above the national median salaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to Salary.com, the top 10% of long-term care RNs earn $93,064 or more annually.

Last Reviewed: June 21, 2022

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