Tips For New Hospice Care Nurses

It takes a special kind of person to be successful and feel fulfilled as a hospice nurse.

As one might imagine, it takes a special kind of person to be successful and feel fulfilled as a hospice nurse. You’re a nurse because you care about people. You want to relieve their suffering and help them heal. Offering hope is a natural response.

In hospice care, the nurse’s desire to heal is no longer at issue or even part of the job. When a patient has qualified for hospice care, it’s because they’re within the last six months of a terminal illness. Treatment for the purposes of prolonging life stops. Instead of healing, a hospice nurse provides comfort and works to maintain quality of life for the patient.

If you can make that switch in thinking, hospice nursing might be a good option.

Because the end result of every patient interaction is death, it takes a compassionate and courageous individual to thrive in the hospice environment. If you can live in the moment with your patient and help them navigate their physical and emotional responses to their impending death, you stand a good chance of succeeding as a hospice nurse.

In addition to the emotional support you’ll provide for both the patient and their family members, you’ll be following individual plans for each patient’s needs. There will always be the basic medical steps to take, like managing pain, checking blood pressure and other vital signs, and administering medication. Since you’ll be part of a team, clear communication and thorough notes are critical.

Many hospice nurses provide care at the patient’s home, and they are especially important when there appears to be a crisis. Family members might define crisis differently, but generally a crisis is indicated when there is severe pain, respiratory distress, extreme agitation, seizures, or if the patient is in the actual phase of dying. In times of a crisis, the nurse is required to remain in the home until the crisis is past.

Hospice nurses require many of the same skills as nurses in other specializations. They need to be compassionate, sympathetic, patient, and calm under pressure. In addition, they need to be good listeners. Whether they’re listening to the family or the patient, they’ll hear pain, tragedy, fear, and uncertainty in their voices and it’s the nurses job to help them come to terms with the situation.

If you think hospice nursing is for you, consider which of the most common environments would suit you best. 

  • In general, hospice patients want to be where they’re most comfortable, and if there is family in the home for support, a hospice nurse will come into the home to provide care.
  • Sometimes, a patient is admitted to the hospital for a specific medical difficulty but is then recommended for hospice care. If the hospital has a hospice section, they patient is often moved, especially if the patient lives alone.
  • Often older patients that are already in a nursing home are diagnosed and recommended for hospice care. In that case, the hospice nurse visits the facility to tend to however many patients in the nursing home are assigned by the hospice agency.
  • More and more there are stand-alone hospice facilities serving those end-of-life patients who can no longer live at home or who require round-the-clock care.

Depending on your lifestyle preference, working at the same hospice facility every day might be an advantage. For others, being on the road and seeing different patients in their homes or nursing homes is more appealing.

In the end, if you’re the type of person who celebrates life and can accept death as part of it, hospice nursing might be for you.

VNA & Hospice is an equal opportunity employer. There are many ways to become a part of our team. Visit our Career Opportunities to find a position that is right for you.