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How to Become an Independent Private Duty Nurse

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Private duty nurses have been caring for patients since the late 19th century. When patients hire an independent nurse provider, they can receive care in the comfort of their own homes instead of a care facility. For private duty nurses, working independently enables them to set their own rates and control their schedules. To become a private duty nurse, you must get a formal education and a license to practice. Once you succeed, you can enjoy a comfortable income with lots of job opportunities.

What Does an Independent Private Duty Nurse Do?

Private duty nurses typically are registered nurses who freelance their skills rather than work for a hospital, doctor’s office or care facility. In most cases, private duty nurses provide care in their patients’ homes, for which they receive a fee. Typically, patients hire private duty nurses directly or through a nursing placement service. The length of time a private duty nurse attends to a patient can vary from a few days or weeks to years.

The duties and responsibilities of a private duty nurse vary. Some RNs specialize in certain areas of medicine, such as geriatrics, oncology or pediatrics. Nonetheless, typical nursing duties include:

  • Administering medications and treatments.
  • Assessing a patient’s condition.
  • Assisting with diagnostic testing.
  • Consulting with doctors about patients’ conditions or treatments.
  • Explaining care plans, illnesses, medications and treatments to patients and their families.
  • Maintaining patient records.
  • Operating medical equipment.

How Do I Become an Independent Private Duty Nurse?

To join the ranks of private duty nursing, you must complete a nursing course. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor of science nursing degrees, community colleges have associate degree in nursing programs, and some hospitals offer diploma nursing programs. BSN programs take around four years to complete, while associate degree and diploma programs take two to three years.

All RN programs include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, behavioral sciences, chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, physiology and psychology. However, most BSN programs provide a more well-rounded education, offering coursework in communication and critical thinking, along with more advanced study in physical and social sciences. BSN, associate degree and diploma courses all include clinical exercises that provide hands-on nursing training.

Some doctor’s offices, hospitals and medical centers accept graduates from all three types of programs, but many prefer nurses who hold a BSN. After gaining job experience, graduates of associate degree and diploma courses often return to school to earn their BSNs, and some BSNs continue their education to become clinical nurse specialists.

RNs who plan to work as independent private duty nurses often take business courses such as accounting, business administration and economics.

Do I Need a License to Be an Independent Nurse Provider?

All RNs need a nursing license before they can practice. The nursing profession requires licenses because unqualified nurses can cause harm to patients. To qualify for a license, you must:

  • Be a graduate of a state-approved nursing program.
  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
  • Pass a criminal background check in some states.

Each state has a board of nursing, which issues and renews licenses, and it administers disciplinary actions against nurses who break the law or violate board rules. Each state has a Nurse Practice Act, which defines its nursing regulations, including:

  • Licensing qualifications.
  • Board of nursing authority.
  • Boundaries of nursing practice.
  • Types of licenses and nursing titles.
  • Nursing education standards.
  • Grounds and remedies for disciplinary actions.

Once you pass the exam and the state board approves your license, you will gain membership to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Some states issue single state licenses, which allow you to practice in only that state. Others have mutual recognition policies, which permit nurses with licenses from other states to practice without obtaining a new credential.

Does Independent Private Duty Nursing Require a Business License?

Licensed RNs do not need a business license to work as an independent private duty nurse. However, you may want to set up an office in your home to handle the business aspects of your work, which may require purchasing a computer, printer and software for accounting, invoicing and scheduling.

Check the Internal Revenue Service’s website or speak with a tax preparer to find out how to file taxes as an independent contractor and the types of deductions that might apply to independent private duty nursing.

Can Anyone Become an RN?

Education and experience can help hone your nursing skills, but you must have certain personal qualities to provide proper care. To succeed as an RN, you must have:

  • A keen eye for detail when administering treatments and medications and when assessing subtle changes in a patient’s condition.
  • Good critical-thinking skills to assess patients’ conditions and take the correct course of action.
  • Organizational skills to juggle the needs of multiple patients.
  • Good communication skills to explain patients’ conditions to other health care professionals and to provide clear information to patients and their families.
  • Physical stamina to safely transfer patients to and from beds and wheelchairs and to work long hours on your feet.
  • Emotional resilience to work in an environment in which people are suffering.
  • Compassion to deal with suffering patients and worried families.

What Are the Advantages of an Independent Private Duty Nursing Career?

Some nurses like the stability and job security of working for a hospital or doctor’s office, while others prefer more independent careers. As an independent private duty nurse, you can:

  • Set your own schedule and work as much or as little as you like.
  • Practice the type of nursing you enjoy most.
  • Choose your patients.
  • Set your own rates.
  • Set goals that fit your career and lifestyle.

Are There Job Placement Services for Private Duty Nurses?

Working independently has advantages, but it requires you to provide your own benefits. Also, as an independent contractor, the IRS may tax your income at a higher rate.

Some private duty nurses prefer to work for a service that offers benefits. As a private duty nurse for a placement service, you work as an employee, which can entitle you to a lower income tax rate. You can find private duty nursing placement companies throughout the United States. For example, Home Health Care of West Tennessee operates throughout Tennessee and offers private duty nurses benefit packages that include:

  • 401(k) plans.
  • Accidental death and dismemberment coverage.
  • Dental and vision insurance.
  • Flexible spending accounts.
  • Health savings accounts.
  • Long-term disability coverage.
  • Medical insurance with a prescription drug plan.
  • Paid leave.
  • Term life insurance.

How Much Does Private Duty Nursing Pay?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earned a median income of nearly $72,000 in 2018. The median salary is the wage at the center of the registered nurse pay scale. RNs at the lower end of the pay scale took home nearly $51,000, and top earners made more than $106,000. According to the National Nurses in Business Association, private duty nurses are among the highest-paid RNs.

Is There a Demand for Independent Private Duty Nursing?

Nurses have been in high demand for many years. The BLS expects jobs for RNs to increase by about 15 percent through 2026. The high demand is rooted in the aging baby boomer population and the rise in occurrences of chronic conditions such as dementia and diabetes.

The rising cost of health care, coupled with insurance company demands to quickly release patients from the hospital, also increases the demand for private duty nurses. The industry has also experienced a demand for nurses who specialize in outpatient rehabilitation and geriatric care.


Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.

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