As our loved ones age—and as we do, too— it’s comforting to know there are healthcare professionals dedicated to providing the best possible care during the latest stages of life. If you’re considering going into nursing, you could offer hospice patients and their families just that. Your patience and empathy, paired with the knowledge you’ll acquire in nursing school about palliative care, provide comfort for aging and terminally ill patients in their final days.
As rewarding as it may be, a career in hospice nursing isn’t for the weak of heart. If you think you have the emotional strength and empathy for this role there are plenty of patients out there who can’t wait to meet you. We’ll be here to support you throughout your journey of becoming a hospice nurse and, once you’re there, to commend you for all your invaluable work.
What is a hospice nurse?
Hospice nurses do the difficult and sensitive work of providing end-of-life care. These nurses work with patients who won’t receive additional treatment to improve their condition; instead, now it’s time for palliative care. Hospice nurses provide pain management and focus on keeping individuals comfortable and improving their quality of life as much as possible during this final chapter.
Hospice nurses have to say goodbye to their elderly and terminally ill patients, a reality that isn’t always easy after bonding and comforting them during this unique stage of life. As hospice and palliative care patients aren’t expected to recover, nurses are tasked with preparing patients and their families for the inevitable. This role requires a specialized set of emotional abilities and personal strength greater than what’s needed in other specialties that treat patients in the hope that they recover.
What does a hospice nurse do?
Remember, hospice nursing is all about quality palliative care. In addition to helping patients and their loved ones make the most of these last days as comfortably and peacefully as possible, here are some of the tasks nurses in hospice teams provide daily:
- Monitoring patients: Hospice nurses take vital signs and closely watch patients for any changes in their condition.
- Administering medication: Patients on bed rest may need medication to control a chronic condition or manage pain. Hospice nurses are responsible for handling oral medications, inserting and refilling IVs and administering injections.
- Providing emotional support: Everyone responds to death differently. Hospice nurses regularly encounter distinct emotions and mindsets from patients, their family members and loved ones—these nurses need to respond accordingly and make this transition as easy as possible for those receiving palliative care.
- Providing crisis care: As patients near the end of their lives, they may have a health crisis resulting in heart failure; depending on their wishes, they may leave instructions to not resuscitate. In such a situation, hospice nurses have to respect and advocate for the patient’s wishes and know when to intervene. They’ll prepare, comfort and manage loved ones’ expectations as they say goodbye.
What skills does a hospice nurse need?
Hospice nursing requires a special set of skills due to the emotional weight and sensitive nature of palliative care. All nurses must be empathetic and attentive, but hospice nurses regularly face difficult prognoses, care for patients at the end of their lives and be prepared to help grieving families. Here’s what it takes to be a good hospice nurse:
- Compassion: While we all have different philosophies around death, the end-of-life stage is often a difficult time. Hospice nurses must show their patients and loved ones compassion, even during the most stressful moments.
- Resilience: Being around death isn’t easy. Hospice nurses may bond with their patients and be sad to let them go. In this role, nurses develop coping skills to help them perform their work to the best of their abilities while remaining emotionally available to their other patients.
- Communication: Palliative care is about keeping patients comfortable and managing pain. Hospice nurses must listen to these individuals’ needs and adjust care plans, including pain management, as needed.
How to become a hospice nurse
If you’re ready to take on the challenges of becoming a champion caregiver and play a significant role in your future hospice patients’ lives, it’s time to study. Here’s what you can expect from your educational journey:
Get your degree
All nurses must earn a college-level degree, either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Suppose you think you may want to change your specialization later down the road or pursue an advanced nursing degree. In that case, we recommend earning your bachelor’s degree as it’s a more widely accepted base for high-level programs and continuing education.
To become a registered nurse (RN), you’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN. Once you do, you can apply for licensure from your state.
Get some clinical experience
You’ll be working bedside as a hospice nurse, so you should gain a few years of experience in direct patient care beforehand.
To get your first job as a hospice nurse, you’ll have to pass the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurses (CHPN) exam, which is offered by the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.
What is the job outlook for a hospice nurse?
This may be a surprising hospice nurse “reveal,” but despite the challenges of this specialty, many find this career emotionally rewarding. You directly feel the results of the help, care and support you provide to your patients and their loved ones.
This career offers additional job satisfaction as the salary of a hospice nurse is quite high. Currently, in the United States, the average annual hospice nurse salary is around $80,000, and some individuals may earn substantially more depending on their years of experience.
The other piece of good news is that hospice nurse jobs are on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 19% jump in positions for registered nurses in this field by 2022, and hospice nursing jobs will continue to be on the rise.
Your job is to keep your patients comfortable, and our job is to keep you comfortable. We’re here to provide moral support and scrubs that fit well, wick away sweat, and move with you. Oh, and did we mention you’ll look (and feel!) great in them?