What are Hospice Nurses, and What Do They Do?
By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a professional freelance writer with almost a decade of experience as a Registered Nurse. She’s worked in both hospitals and nursing homes as a med-surg, geriatric and transplant nurse. Her national publication credits include Parents, RN, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nursing Spectrum, Pregnancy and Journal of Christian Nursing.
Hospice nurses care for people with terminal illnesses. They provide comfort and support to patients and their families in the final days of the patient’s life. But contrary to popular belief, hospice nursing isn’t all doom and gloom. Most hospice nurses describe their jobs as tremendously rewarding.
The hospice movement was borne of the recognition that dying patients and their families possess a unique set of physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Instead of focusing on a cure, hospice nurses focus on comfort. They establish a rapport with their patients and create highly individualized care plans based on the patient’s belief system, disease process and psychosocial needs. Often, they provide care in a patient’s home. Other times, they minister to patients in specially designed, homelike hospice rooms or in long-term care facilities.
Comfort is a major focus of hospice care. Hospice nurses work with physicians to establish and maintain effective pain control regimens – and the definition of “effective” may vary from patient to patient. Some patients want to be pain-free even if it means that they spend most of the day sedated. Other patients prefer longer periods of lucidity even if it means a little bit of pain. Like all nurses, hospice nurses tailor their care to their patients’ priorities.
Hospice nurses understand the dying process and provide emotional support to patients and their families as they come to terms with death. They can also explain the physical process of death to family members; many family members find this sort of anticipatory guidance invaluable. In addition, hospice nurses can show family members how to care for the patient.
Often, hospice nurses act as team leaders. They serve as a liaison between the family and physician and call clergy and counselors as needed. They may connect the family to additional community support networks such as meal programs or grief groups, as well.
While most hospice nurses are generalists, some sub-specialize. Popular specialties include oncology, pediatrics or geriatrics. Certification is available through the National Board for Certification for Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses.