A hospice nurse is a nurse who provides end of life care to terminally ill patients. Hospice nurses work in hospice facilities that offer skilled nursing services to critically ill patients and they can also work at home with patients who are more comfortable at home. People with a range of nursing qualifications are eligible to work in various aspects of hospice care. Career hospice nurses usually join professional organizations that provide continuing education, opportunities for professional networking, and other career benefits.
Hospice care is supportive treatment offered to patients who are reaching the end of a terminal illness. A key part of hospice is pain management to keep the patient comfortable. Hospice nurses administer pain medications and work with a doctor and the patient to develop a pain management plan. They also provide assistance with tasks that patients may not be able to complete on their own. This includes everything from bathing patients to writing dictated letters for patients who cannot comfortably write.
Another role of the hospice nurse is preparing patients, friends, and family for death. Hospice nurses are experienced with the physical phenomena that accompany death and can demystify some of the events that will occur while a patient is in hospice. This includes educating people about the stages of death, being alert to changes in a patient's condition that indicate the end is near, and sitting with dying patients who do not have friends or family to keep them company.
Providing end of life care to patients can be emotionally stressful. Unlike other nursing professionals who focus on helping patients get better, a hospice nurse is primarily concerned with keeping patients as comfortable as possible. The nurse must follow directives in the patient's health care plan, such as requests to avoid extraordinary lifesaving measures. Rarely, patients placed in hospice end up recovering and are discharged. However, these cases are relatively unusual, as hospice is only recommended when a doctor feels that a patient is dying and in need of palliative, rather than therapeutic, care.
Becoming a hospice nurse requires completing a nursing program and taking an examination to get a nursing license. Continuing education requirements must be fulfilled in order to maintain a nursing license. Nurses who do pursue membership in professional organizations tend to be more employable. Such memberships indicate a high level of professional commitment on the part of a hospice nurse, as well as a personal commitment to the ethical practices such organizations require their members to follow.