Nurses in Hospice Practice Provide Care for End of Life Patients and Families

Ultimate Compassion a Prerequisite

Imagine caring for clients that are dying. You know they will die; and they know it, too. Your job? Make them as comfortable as possible and offer your best “face” everyday, while staying the course as a skilled nursing professional. Hospice nurses are a subset of home health nurses and oncology nurses. Oncology nurses have specialized skills with cancer patients—many of whom become hospice patients. Terminally ill patients have the right to seek refuge for their final days in the comfort of their own homes, with family and friends nearby.

Mourning Flowers.

Role of a Hospice Nurse

Palliative care is at the epicenter of hospice nursing. The medical goal is to support the patient’s emotional and spiritual needs, but to provide care that delivers optimal comfort, as opposed to care that provides treatment for a disease. Hospice patients are no longer in a treatment phase. This makes the nurse’s role unique. He or she also forges relationships with patient physicians, housekeepers or aides, even community priests, rabbis, or ministers. Generally nurses choose to work with a specific patient population, or within a certain patient setting, or with patients suffering from a particular disorder, disease or condition. Hospice nursing turns all of these criteria on their heads:

  • Patients are of all ages, walks of life, and social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.
  • Nurses must manage a wide array of life threatening diseases, including AIDS, and cancers.
  • Care settings are well outside the four walls of a health facility, or the traditional patient care settings.

Hospice Nurse Degrees & Training Courses

Although hospice nurses may qualify for employment with Associates degrees, most agencies require or prefer at least a BSN. All applicants must have valid RN licenses and nurses with advanced practice degrees likely get jobs over less academically prepared nurses.

Clinical Nurse Specialists may find Masters degree programs that offer a hospice or oncology nurse specialty. Masters in nursing programs such as these provide a significant level of advanced skill and technical coursework. When it comes right down to it, hospice nurses with a good record of experience working with end-of-life patients in any care setting are considered valuable assets.


The National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses administers the nationally recognized suite of certification exams that credential nurses of all levels, from nurses’ aide through advanced practice. Industry credentials are an important measurement of nursing knowledge and skills that prove critical in healthcare. The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association urges professional hospice nurses to seek certification as a means to validate their training, experience, and skill sets.


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