What is a Hospice Nurse?

A hospice nurse provides care and support to patients near their end of life, with typically a few days to six months to live.

These healthcare specialists play an essential role due to their perceptiveness, compassion, and expertise for their patients.

Hospice nurses typically operate as medical caregivers and are a primary part of a patient’s emotional support.

As a result, these specialists must have a strong sense of empathy when accommodating patients at the end of their life.

They must also understand life and death and help patients develop a positive, spiritual outlook on the life they have left.

What Do Hospice Nurses Do?

Hospice nurses perform various duties to ensure patients receive adequate medical care and emotional support.

These specialists monitor vital signs, organize and dispense patient medications, and dress wounds.

They also ensure the patient is always comfortable and help them develop healthy eating habits and rest schedules.

Because patients at hospice facilities are near death, hospice nurses often provide emotional support and guidance.

Hospice nurses also support and educate the patient’s family members and friends and provide professional assistance.

Death is never easy to process, especially among those we have a close connection.

These healthcare professionals help them understand how to support their loved ones best and process their experiences.

Hospice Nurse Responsibilities:

  • Monitor patient vitals
  • Provide wound care
  • Deliver bedside care
    Develop care plans
  • Document patient care
  • Review medical records
  • Administer treatments
  • Perform patient assessments
  • Respond to emergencies
  • Organize and dispense medications
  • Offer patients emotional/spiritual support
  • Advocate for more satisfactory patient care
  • Assist patients through their last days/months
  • Educate family, friends, and caregivers
  • Help relatives cope with the upcoming loss
  • Provide post-mortem support
  • Collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals
  • Act as a liaison to patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers

Hospice nurses perform other duties and obligations to support caregivers and treat patients at their end of life.

Patient’s Hospice Nurses Assist

Hospice nurses care for patients with diverse illnesses, injuries, and medical conditions.

It includes support for patients with Aids, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, terminal illness, and trauma.

In addition, they assist patients with severe mental health conditions in the final days/months of life.

Commonly Treated Conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Terminal illnesses
  • Aids
  • Trauma

The patient hospice nurses may vary depending on their department/unit, healthcare facility, or specialization.

For instance, hospital hospice nurses may care for patients with trauma and severe illnesses.

Those in private care facilities may assist patients with mental health conditions, age-related ailments, or other conditions.

Where Do Hospice Nurses Work?

Hospice nurses work in various healthcare and patient care facilities.

It includes hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities.

In addition, they’re located in patient homes and inpatient hospice centers, offering personal and specialized care.

Occupational Settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Patient homes
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Inpatient hospice centers

Nonetheless, hospice nurses are often present in a patient’s home.

It enables the patient to enjoy their last days/months in the comfort of their personal living space.

They also typically work in dedicated healthcare centers where patients can receive further medical assistance and support.

The Importance of Hospice Nurses

Most nursing specializations focus on improving patient health and rehabilitation through treatments and interventions.

However, hospice nurses concentrate on helping patients, caregivers, and family/friends accept end-of-life circumstances.

These experts ensure patients receive exceptional care and support while understanding that rehabilitation is improbable.

Unfortunately, no treatment plans, medications, or procedures can cure a patient’s ailments in hospice care.

As a result, hospice nurses make their patient’s last days as pleasant and meaningful as possible.

It may be challenging to cope in this field since nurses often cope with death and must provide support while grieving.

However, it can also be an excellent occupation when observed from a positive perspective.

Hospice nurses improve their patient’s and caregivers’ outlooks on life and death.

As a result, they play an integral role in creating purpose and ensuring their patient’s last moments are meaningful.

They give the patient hope, happiness, support, and care.

Most importantly, they give them a reason to make their remaining time on earth as fulfilling as possible.

Necessary Skills

There are numerous skills hospice nurses must develop to work effectively in this field.

It includes having a high level of compassion, attentiveness, patience, and open-mindedness.

Nurses must also develop the fortitude to cope with death effectively while remaining caring, focused, and professional.

Hospice nurses must find strength in challenging times to support their patients, caregivers, family, and friends.

Compassion

Being compassionate is extremely important in all areas of nursing.

Hospice nurses must put their feelings and problems aside to support their patients and caregivers/families adequately.

Offering compassion means staying focused on the patient’s needs and understanding them.

As a result, hospice nurses must be good listeners and communicators to ensure they meet the patient’s needs.

Even when a hospice nurse’s personal life isn’t going well, it’s necessary to separate personal life from work.

Providing patients and caregivers with information, emotional support, and attentiveness is crucial in this profession.

Attentiveness

Hospice nurses administer medications and treatments routinely, perform check-ups and respond to emergencies.

As a result, being dependable, organized, and attentive are essential traits among those who operate as hospice nurses.

All areas of nursing require attentiveness and care.

However, patients in hospice care often have sensitive needs that require prompt and frequent attention and support.

Nurses must continually monitor and manage their patient’s chronic illnesses, diseases, and injuries.

Being attentive and observant ensures that patients remain comfortable, safe, and well-supported.

Patience

Patients in hospice care don’t have much mobility, freedom, and self-efficiency concerning self-care and managing daily tasks.

As a result, hospice nurses must have excellent patience when tending to their patients.

Providing frequent assistance and support while remaining positive and compassionate is essential.

Open Mindedness

Hospice care is dynamic, and every patient’s situation is different.

Accordingly, hospice nurses must be open-minded and adapt quickly to changing situations, emergencies, and circumstances.

Even the most efficient and effective laid-out routines can change in an emergency.

Therefore, it’s essential not to stay close-minded or fixated on doing things in a particular way.

Every nurse has routines, but they must be open to changing their role, duties, and actions on the fly.

How to Become a Hospice Nurse

There are numerous steps aspiring hospice nurses must complete working in this profession.

It includes joining a nursing program, obtaining a degree, passing the NCLEX, gaining experience, and getting certified.

The following section provides an overview of the steps necessary to become a hospice nurse.

1. Join a Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a hospice nurse is joining and passing a nursing program.

To enter the nursing program, students must complete multiple prerequisite courses and maintain a good GPA.

It takes approximately 1 – 3 years to complete the necessary prerequisites, depending on the student’s prior education.

After completing the prerequisites and attaining a satisfactory GPA, students can apply to the nursing program.

However, some programs enable students to apply one semester before finishing the prerequisites to expedite the process.

2. Obtain a BSN Degree

Students accepted into the nursing program can pursue an ADN or BSN degree.

The ADN degree takes approximately 18 – 24 months to complete and provides a fundamental nursing education.

It enables students to enter the healthcare field and obtain entry-level careers quickly.

As a result, some students acquire an ADN to gain experience quickly and earn money while pursuing their BSN.

Many aspiring hospice nurses obtain a BSN degree.

The BSN degree takes roughly 36 – 48 months to complete providing a more comprehensive education.

It enables registered nurses to obtain careers in various specializations, including hospice care.

Many healthcare institutions also prefer/require a BSN for specific specializations like hospice nursing.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN

Nursing school graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN to obtain licensure and practice as registered nurses.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the exam.

The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) tests the competencies of nursing graduates.

It ensures they have sufficient education and training to work effectively and competently in entry-level nursing positions.

Passing the NCLEX is also necessary to acquire state licensure and approval.

4. Gain Experience

After obtaining licensure and completing the necessary state provisions, registered nurses may begin working.

Obtaining experience in acute/critical care is advantageous for those pursuing careers in hospice nursing.

Hospice nurses assist patients near their end of life, so developing expertise in acute care is vital.

Developing experience is also beneficial for taking the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse certification.

Acquiring 1- 3 years of experience is recommended before taking the certification and applying for hospice nursing jobs.

5. Get Certified

Acquiring Hospice and Palliative Nurse certification benefits those desiring to become hospice nurses.

Getting certified ensures registered nurses have adequate training and expertise to operate effectively in this discipline.

It also demonstrates to employers they have the knowledge and commitment to provide excellent patient care.

The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) administers the exam.

Registered nurses may apply for hospice nursing careers upon completing the examination and acquiring certification.

Mental Health and Hospice Care

Hospice care is separated from other nursing careers because these experts help patients make the most of their last days.

Other nursing professions focus on patient assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation.

Comparatively, hospice nurses care for patients coping with death since there are no available life-saving interventions. 

It can be challenging for some registered nurses to operate in hospice care.

It’s especially tough when a patient is younger than the nurse caring for them, such as a child, teen, or young adult.

Many hospice nurses receive mental health support to cope with death and the inability to change a patient’s circumstances.

Some healthcare professionals blame themselves for not being able to change the outcomes of their patients.

Others find it extremely challenging to work in a career where death, instead of rehabilitation, is commonplace.

In addition, it can be hard to provide inspiration, support, and education to highly emotional patients and family members.

Nurses must grieve while remaining professional and emotionally stable when they lose a patient.

These factors can cause depression, hopelessness, and a gloomy outlook for those who do not receive mental health support.

As a result, it’s helpful for hospice nurses to seek therapy, even if they feel confident and secure in their work.

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