Nursing professionals can find themselves working in a host of employment areas, from home health aides to emergency room nurses to nurses in a rehabilitative or therapeutic setting. However, one area of the nursing profession that is often overlooked is that of rural nursing, or when nursing professionals provide healthcare services to traditionally low numbers of people who are very often spread out over large geographic distances. Many times, individuals served by rural nurses are culturally isolated, having needs that are often unique to their community. It is essential, then, that rural nurses fully understand the unique populations they serve, usually by having a close tie to the community themselves.
Rural nurses often work independently, traveling from site to site to provide patients with care. While they have a base of operations in a clinical setting, they often blur the line between a nursing professional who works in a traditional practice and those who provide home health care. Rural nurses need to have the ability to serve a wide variety of patients, from infants to the elderly, from individuals needing routine preventive care to those needing end-of-life or hospice care. As a result, the education required for an effective rural nurse is extensive; the ability to work autonomously and to turn to a wide network of support professionals when necessary are also vital competencies for someone in this role. Rural nurses provide essential care to individuals who are otherwise culturally, socially, or geographically isolated, and serving as a bridge between the patient and the health care environment.