What's the Job Description of a Hospice Nurse?

Research what it takes to become a hospice nurse. Learn about the educational, licensure and certification requirements, along with job outlook and salary information, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Adult Health Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hospice Nurse?

Hospice nurses provide care for patients with terminal illnesses. Their role is to provide appropriate medical care for these patients, and they work collaboratively with social workers, ministers and physicians as needed to help meet the needs of the patients and their families. They follow the medical treatment plans for their patients, may administer medication and perform regular nursing duties, but also accommodate the families of their patients. In many cases these nurses may work in the patient's home, allowing them to spend their final days in a familiar environment with their family and to ultimately die at home.

Degree Required Associate's degree OR diploma program (minimum)
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Minimize physical pain, maximize quality of life, compassionate care for patients & families, utilize holistic treatments & traditional medicine
Licensure & Certification Registered Nurse (RN) license (required), Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) (voluntary)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 (for registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice care is the specialized approach to caring for patients in the last six months of their lives following a terminal disease, an injury or another health complication. It is an all-encompassing plan to minimize patients' physical pain and suffering while maximizing their quality of life. You would guide patients and their families through the many challenges of a terminal illness and the bereavement process. This is accomplished not only through medicine but also with holistic considerations that focus on the patients' emotional, cultural and spiritual needs.

End of life care often takes place in a patient's home, offering a comfortable setting where he or she can be surrounded by family and friends. Hospice care may also be provided in nursing homes, dedicated hospice facilities or other types of long-term facilities.

How Is a Hospice Nurse Different From Other Types of Nurses?

Nurses treat people with injuries or illnesses, educate people about medical conditions and help people stay healthy. As a hospice nurse, you will go beyond administering medicines and offer a special level of compassion to help patients face the ends of their lives. You will work with a broad team, including other medical staff, therapists and religious counselors, to guide patients through a very sensitive time. You must draw upon all of your medical knowledge to direct care plans, manage pain and see that patients receive any additional treatments they may need to be comfortable. You would also focus on helping their families navigate insurance issues, make funeral preparations and emotionally prepare for the end of life.

How Do I Become a Hospice Nurse?

To focus on hospice nursing, you will need to obtain your Registered Nurse (RN) license. You can begin by completing a diploma program, associate's degree program or bachelor's degree program in nursing. After you complete your education, you'll be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). You may find a small number of master's programs that focus on hospice nursing, but generally they're rare. Many hospice care settings may also require that you have experience working in an acute or intensive care department.

After you gain some work experience, you may choose to obtain certification in the specialty. The National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses offers the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) credential. Eligibility requirements include a RN license and two years of experience as a hospice nurse (www.nbchpn.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and licensed practical nurses all have duties that may be similar to the work of hospice nurses. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency situations and may provide emergency medical care to patients while transporting them to the hospital; in the event that they respond to a serious accident they may need to perform CPR or attempt other life-saving treatment if a patient is near death. Like hospice nurses, they may experience the death of a patient in the course of their duties. EMTs and paramedics need to complete postsecondary training, although a degree is not required. Licensed practical nurses also need to complete postsecondary training. Licensed practical nurses may work with patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, or an illness, injury or disability that requires them to have long-term medical care. Like hospice nurses they may administer medications and they follow the patient's care plan to ensure their medical needs are met.

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