Hospice care is intended to ease the physical and emotional suffering of terminally ill individuals. Hospice care specialists are trained to attend to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of patients. Hospice facilities are equipped with technology to ease suffering rather than prolong life through invasive medical procedures. In fact, many hospice patients receive care in their homes. Hospice care guidelines and procedures are governed by the Medicare Benefit Act of 1983. Under this law, patients are permitted to die at home with their families present.
Palliative care specialists assist and treat patients with chronic pain and terminal illness. They typically provide treatments designed to reduce suffering, regain lost functions, and help patients manage stress. While performing their duties, palliative care specialists must respect personal values, religious beliefs, and cultural customs.
Palliative care and hospice nurses typically perform the same duties, but they receive different types of training. Palliative care nurses frequently work with patients struggling with chronic pain, not terminal illness.
Hospice and palliative care nurses frequently work in teams with other specialists, including doctors, other nurses, psychologists, social workers, and chaplains. Together, these professionals work to assist patients struggling with chronic illness or pain, in order to ease the pain patients’ and their families and friends are going through.
Since terminally ill patients require around the clock care, hospice and palliative care nurses frequently work nights, weekends, holidays, and early mornings. To ease suffering, hospice and palliative nurses listen to patients’ complaints, offer counseling, and utilize medical technology and procedures.
No matter where patients decide to receive care, hospice and palliative nurses develop individualized care plans customized to the unique needs of patients and their families. To do this, nurses must counsel with family members to learn more about the patients’ values, beliefs, and preferences.
In addition to patient care duties, hospice and palliative nurses frequently participate with non-profit organizations, teach classes, conduct research, and write grant proposals for research about terminal illness and chronic pain management. Many also work with elected representatives to promote legislation designed to assist terminally ill individuals.
Most palliative care and hospice nurses are considered generalists, but many specialize in geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, or other fields. To specialize, nurses are required to complete additional training and become certified. Certification is achieved by completing the Palliative Nurse (CHPN) designation.
Hospice nurses usually assist people at patients’ homes or the homes of family members, but many are also employed at hospice care facilities. Hospice nurses also assist patients at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Typically, hospice patients die within a month of when they start receiving hospice care. Palliative care nurses usually work at hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities where patients are receiving pain management treatment.
Hospice and palliative care nurses must possess a unique set of skills and knowledge about pain and symptom management, end of life medical care, psychology, counseling, coping with stress and grief, bereavement care, etc. Additionally, they must be good listeners, possess empathy, and have effective stress management skills since they work all day around patients who are dying or struggling with chronic pain.
Hospice and palliative nurses typically hold associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degrees. Two schools, New York University and Ursuline College, offer master’s degree programs in hospice and palliative care. Very few hospice and palliative nurses have doctorate degrees.
Hospice and palliative care nurses typically earn salaries comparable to registered nurses. Those with graduate degrees earn salaries comparable to nurses practitioners.