Hospice nurses care for patients who are nearing the end of life. The focus of hospice care is providing physical, emotional, and spiritual care to patients who are terminally ill. When patients have stopped life-prolonging medical treatments and the focus becomes managing the patient’s comfort, hospice nurses step in. End-of-life care requires nurses who are compassionate with both the patient and his or her family members. While hospice nursing can be a challenging field, it is often described as incredibly rewarding too.
Role of a hospice nurse
Hospice nurses do not work alone; they collaborate with other professionals, including physicians, chaplains, and social workers. Together, the holistic team works to meet the needs of terminally ill patients and their families. Hospice provides 24-hour availability to patients. Nurses work to manage the patient’s pain and provide support to the family. In order to meet the end-of-life needs of each individual patient, hospice nurses work to provide culturally sensitive care after conducting a cultural assessment of the patient and his family.
While providing compassionate care to terminally ill patients and their families is at the core of hospice nursing, hospice nurses also fulfill some non-bedside roles. This includes researching end-of-life care, providing professional education, and acting as advocates for the terminally ill and their families.
Hospice nurse qualifications
The vast majority of hospice nurses are registered nurses (RN) or licensed practical nurses (LPN) holding either an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree. A few colleges and universities– including NYU– have master’s degree programs that focus directly on hospice and palliative care. After completing two years of work in a hospice setting, nurses can take the Hospice and Palliative Nurses certification exam.
Most would agree that the qualifications of a good hospice nurse go beyond educational requirements. Hospice nurses must display the utmost integrity and compassion as patients and families navigate their way through an extremely emotional time. Hospices nurses should also display emotional maturity and stability while excelling in crisis situations.
Most hospice nurses are generalists, but some do choose to specialize in a particular area of hospice care. For example, some hospice nurses might prefer to focus on geriatric hospice care, while others specialize in oncology hospice care. Regardless of the specialty, however, the knowledge base for hospice nurses remains essentially the same. For example, hospice nurses in all specialties focus on loss and grief, end-of-life care, bereavement care, patient education, pain management, symptom management, ethical concerns, legal concerns, culturally sensitive care, and emotional and spiritual patient care.
Hospice nurse settings
Since many patients prefer to spend their final days in the comfort of their own homes, hospice care nurses often work at the homes of their terminally ill patients. Sometimes, hospice nurses work at in-patient hospice facilities. Other locations hospice nurses might work at include: hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
Hospice nurse job outlook
Nurses who work with the elderly– including hospice care nurses– continue to grow in demand as the baby boomer population ages. Hospice care nurses can expect a competitive salary, typically comparable to other registered nurse positions. While salaries vary depending on education, location, and experience, the average salary for a registered nurse in 2013 was $66,220 annually.
Hospice nurses are among the most respected nurses in the field. They play a vital role in end-of-life care for both patients and their families, with duties ranging from the administration of medication to supporting families as they navigate the grief process. Currently, the demand for hospice nurses is high, and this trend is expected to continue for the forseeable future, with the aging baby boomer population and the increase in terminal illness rates. Contact us today for more information about this challenging yet incredibly rewarding nursing career.