Find High-Paying PRN Outpatient Nursing Jobs with Nursa

nurses working and walking in an ambulatory clinic
Written by
Laila Ighani
March 18, 2024

Table of Contents

Advancements in healthcare technologies, cost management incentives, and demand for consumer-focused services have made outpatient centers and services increasingly prevalent, including ambulatory surgery centers, community health centers, primary care clinics, and telehealth. In fact, employment in ambulatory healthcare services nearly doubled between 1998 and 2021.

This ultimate guide covers ambulatory nursing care, from how to become an outpatient nurse to how to find high-paying outpatient nursing jobs.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Nursing 

According to Merriam-Webster, the meaning of outpatient is “a patient who is not hospitalized overnight but who visits a hospital, clinic, or associated facility for diagnosis or treatment.” On the other hand, the definition of inpatient is “a hospital patient who receives lodging and food as well as treatment.” Therefore, the main difference between outpatient vs. inpatient is the length of time a patient stays at a healthcare facility, specifically whether or not the patient spends the night.

What Is Ambulatory Nursing?   

Ambulatory nursing care refers to services performed on an outpatient basis—in other words, without admission to a hospital or other facility. Therefore, the terms “ambulatory nursing” and “outpatient nursing” can generally be used interchangeably. 

The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) states that ambulatory care nursing focuses on healthcare for individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations. Ambulatory care nurses practice in primary and specialty care outpatient settings, non-acute surgical and diagnostic outpatient settings, and during virtual telehealth encounters, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Hospital-based outpatient clinics/centers
  • Individual or group medical practices
  • Ambulatory surgery and diagnostic procedure centers
  • Telehealth service settings
  • Nurse-managed clinics
  • Managed care organizations
  • Military and Veterans Administration settings
  • University and community hospital clinics
  • Colleges and educational institutions
  • Freestanding community facilities
  • Care coordination organizations
  • Patients’ homes

A typical characteristic of outpatient nursing is that registered nurses (RNs) care for many patients in short periods of time. These encounters often require nurses to collaborate with other healthcare workers and work independently to address patients’ wellness, acute illnesses, chronic diseases, disabilities, and end-of-life needs.

What Does an Outpatient Nurse Do?

Registered nurses working in outpatient care settings are essential providers of the following nursing services:

  • Independent nursing interventions with patients of all ages
  • Delivery of nursing care in person and virtually
  • Delegation of nursing services to unlicensed members of the healthcare team
  • Coordination with other members of the healthcare team

Depending on the specific outpatient care setting, nurses may carry out the following duties:

  • Performing essential responsibilities, such as taking vital signs, stocking exam rooms, giving vaccines, drawing blood, etc.
  • Formulating plans of care, including patient education and discharge planning 
  • Adapting standards and guidelines for individual patients
  • Responding to changes in patients’ needs
  • Communicating and collaborating with healthcare team members, patients, and family members to identify realistic desired outcomes and maximize patient outcomes
  • Evaluating patient outcomes and making revisions to plans of care
  • Documenting all patient care activities
  • Participating in planning routine transitional healthcare needs, including treatment options, patient placement options, end-of-life options, etc.
  • Advocating for patients’ rights and identifying potential conflicts

How Much Does an Outpatient RN Make?

Although the mean annual wage for registered nurses in the US is $89,010, RNs working in outpatient care centers earn an average wage of $97,200 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, this average may vary significantly based on numerous factors, including location and specific work setting. However, a nurse working in an outpatient care center, such as an outpatient surgery nurse, typically makes a significantly higher salary than nurses working in inpatient settings, such as nursing homes or hospitals.

How to Become an Outpatient RN

An aspiring outpatient RN must fulfill the following basic requirements to be eligible for outpatient nursing jobs: 

  • Complete an accredited nursing program, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
  • Meet state-specific requirements to obtain a nursing license

Outpatient nursing jobs may also require a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification from the American Heart Association and six or more months of experience as a registered nurse.

Nurses with clinical knowledge and skills in the ambulatory care nursing specialty can take the Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification Exam. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers this exam, extending the Ambulatory Care Nurse-Board Certified (AMB-BC™) credential to successful candidates.

What Are Outpatient Services?

As the word outpatient indicates, outpatient services refer to those that do not require an overnight stay. Individuals commonly visit outpatient care centers with the following healthcare needs: 

  • Intravenous hydration
  • Intravenous therapy, such as antibiotics or iron infusion
  • Intravenous push medications
  • Intramuscular and subcutaneous injections, including allergy shots
  • Administration of blood and blood products
  • Lab draw from implanted port
  • Routine flush of implanted ports, central lines, and peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines
  • Urinary catheterization or catheter change
  • Dressing changes
  • Suture or staple removal
  • PICC line insertions
  • Immunizations

However, outpatient services depend largely on the specific type of outpatient care center.

Outpatient Surgery Centers

Surgical procedures are increasingly prevalent in outpatient centers throughout the United States.

Outpatient surgeries are typically performed at outpatient surgery centers (OSCs) or ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs). Although the terms “outpatient” and “ambulatory” are often used interchangeably, these two types of centers differ in that ASCs are independently owned and operated.

Whether a surgery occurs at an OSC or an ASC, procedures are completed in just a few hours, so patients don’t need to stay overnight. 

The following are common surgeries performed in outpatient or ambulatory surgery centers:

  • Cataract surgery
  • Tonsillectomies
  • Gallbladder removal
  • Hernia repair
  • Muscle and tendon repair
  • Joint repair and replacement
  • Lumpectomy
  • Meniscus repair
  • Nerve treatment
  • Removal of melanoma and other skin cancers
  • Laser skin resurfacing and other cosmetic surgeries
  • Diagnostic operations, such as biopsies, endoscopies, and colonoscopies

Are you interested in outpatient surgery jobs? Browse available outpatient surgery clinic jobs for nurses.

Outpatient Physical Therapy

Some patients may need long-term physical therapy, but others are perfect candidates for outpatient physical therapy. Outpatient programs offer the same therapies as inpatient programs, providing skilled therapists and measurable results. The main difference is that outpatient physical therapy allows patients to live in their own homes and continue their normal daily activities.  

Outpatient Adolescent Primary Care Clinic

Healthcare services specifically catered to the needs of adolescents are also available in outpatient settings.

Outpatient adolescent primary care clinics typically offer the following services:

  • Primary care healthcare services, including wellness counseling and illness prevention and treatment, care for acne, and treatment of sports-related injuries
  • Annual checkups and physicals for school, employment, and sports
  • Screening and treatment for mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorders
  • Dental and vision screenings
  • Immunizations
  • Screening and cessation services for smoking, vaping, and substance use 
  • Information and support for menstrual issues and prescription birth control methods 
  • Pregnancy testing and prenatal care
  • Counseling, prevention, testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • Support, medical care, and resources for LGBTQ+ youth

Nurses interested in working with this population can find nursing jobs in outpatient adolescent primary care clinics here.

Outpatient Behavioral/Mental Health

Patients who require behavioral health services may need to remain in a psychiatric unit or hospital for round-the-clock care. However, outpatient settings also offer many behavioral/mental health services, including the following: 

  • Individual or group counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychiatric medication
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Chemical dependency treatment
  • Bipolar disorder treatment
  • Anxiety treatment
  • Depression treatment
  • Stress management skills
  • Family therapy

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Individuals seeking treatment for drug or alcohol problems may opt for outpatient drug rehab, such as an intensive outpatient program, instead of living at a rehab facility.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are alternatives to inpatient and residential treatment for substance abuse. These programs are designed for people with substance use disorders (SUDs) or co-occurring SUDs and mental disorders who do not need 24-hour supervision or medical detoxification but still require more support than the weekly or bi-weekly sessions traditional outpatient care settings provide. IOPs aim to establish psychosocial support and facilitate relapse management and coping strategies.

These programs offer a minimum of nine hours of service per week in three sessions of three hours, although many programs become less intensive over time. Some programs provide more sessions per week and/or longer sessions daily.

Since IOPs allow individuals to remain in their own homes and communities, they are an essential part of the continuum of care for alcohol and drug use disorders. Furthermore, they are as effective as inpatient treatment for most individuals seeking care. 

How to Find Outpatient Nursing Jobs near You

Just as current healthcare and financial demands have led to an increase in outpatient services, so have staffing demands and challenges contributed to the rise in PRN nursing jobs. Healthcare facilities can contract PRN nurses to fill gaps in clinician coverage. At the same time, nurses benefit from PRN nursing jobs by maintaining a flexible work schedule and earning higher-than-average hourly wages. 

Nursa is an open healthcare marketplace where facilities can post PRN nursing jobs, and nurses can request jobs that fit their interests and needs. Discover outpatient nursing jobs near you today by signing up with Nursa.


Laila Ighani
Blog published on:
March 18, 2024

Laila is a contributing copywriter and editor at Nursa who specializes in writing compelling long-form content about nursing finances, per diem job locations, areas of specialization, guides, and resources that help nurses navigate their career paths.

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