Palliative nurses take care of patients who are terminally ill by providing aid and physical care.
Those who are employed as advanced practice palliative care nurses work in a variety of settings such as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. Their duties include:
Evaluation and Planning – The nurses evaluate each new patient in their care by performing a physical exam, reviewing the patient’s medical records, ordering diagnostic imaging and laboratory tests (allowed in most states) and consulting with the patient’s treating physician. Upon completion of the evaluation, the nurse will complete a treatment plan.
Therapy – After a treatment plan is finalized, the nurse will monitor and document the patient’s condition. A plan may include physical or occupational therapy, or drug therapy.
End-of-life Care – Those who work in settings such as nursing homes and oncology departments often treat patients who need end-of-life care. Many of them require high levels of pain medications and the nurses administer a dose that eliminates the pain, but still allows the patients to remain coherent so they can visit with family and friends.
To work in this field you need to be a registered nurse or higher. Most have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (you can earn an Associate of Science in Nursing degree instead) and while classes differ from school to school, you’re likely to take:
Pathophysiology for Nurses – This course centers on the various physiologic stressors by which disease occurs.
Nursing Research – This course focuses on critical analysis and interpretation of research reports and strategy development for implementation of research findings.
Community Health Nursing – Students learn about the community as a client and the necessary factors to describe the client and assess the needs. During this course, the basic principles of prevention and control of diseases that impact a patient will be discussed.
Health Assessment – Students learn the necessary skills in order to assess the health status of patients.
Computer Literacy – Students will discover how computers impacted the delivery of healthcare and learn the basics of programs such as Word and Power Point.
While a registered nurse can gain employment in palliative nursing, it’s best to earn a master’s degree in order to work as an advanced practice palliative care nurse. This allows for more responsibilities (as we discussed under job duties) and higher wages. Courses typically found in advanced programs are Healthcare Research, Advanced Pharmacology, Nursing Theory, Advanced Practice Nursing, and Health Promotion.
No matter which state you choose to work in, all registered nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before their first day of work.
For those who are registered nurses, the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses administers the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse exam. Eligibility requirements include a minimum of 500 hours of work experience in palliative nursing practice in the most recent 12 months or 1,000 hours in the most recent 24 months, and there are testing sites throughout the country.
For advanced practice palliative care nurses, the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses administers the Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse exam. A minimum of 500 hours work experience as an advanced nurse is required before sitting for the exam.
Job Outlook and Salary
The job outlook for both registered nurses and advanced palliative care nurses is excellent with a projected 31 percent growth by 2022, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for advanced care nurses was $68,910 in 2013.
This is a rewarding profession that also requires working with patients’ families. If you have any questions, please contact us for more information.