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Career: Hospice Nurse

A Day in the life of a Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses perform many traditional nursing duties such as observing, assessing, and recording symptoms, and they still work closely with physicians, administer medications, and provide emotional support. Hospice nurses have a particularly tough job because, from the outset, they know that the patient for whom they are caring is terminally ill. The medications that hospice nurses administer and the symptoms they record aren’t intended to aid a patient in his or her recovery, but rather to make his or her remaining days as comfortable as possible. Most of the nurse’s duties involve minimizing pain. Although being a nurse of any kind is very difficult, dealing every day with a dying person requires an exceptional temperament, one that embodies great caring, patience, and resolve. Hospice care is what is known as comprehensive palliative medical care, i.e., treatment to reduce pain and other troubling symptoms as opposed to treatment to cure. The hospice doctrine states that terminally ill patients have the right to spend their last days in the comfort of their own homes, with their families, and hospice care provides professional medical care as well as supportive social, emotional, and spiritual services to accomplish this. The hospice nurse’s duties fall somewhere in between all of these ideals, with emphasis on medical care. Because they essentially act as home-care nurses and spend several hours a day with their patients in their homes, they become emotional caretakers as well. The majority of hospice patients have cancer, but others suffer from AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart or lung disease, and other fatal conditions. Patients can be any age, race, or creed, and it can be especially trying on hospice nurses to attend patients who are as young, or younger, than they are. Hospice nurses coordinate the care of every hospice patient through an advising physician, provide direct patient care, evaluate the patients’ conditions, and serve as the liaison between families and physicians. A hospice nurse may also work with a patient’s social worker, home-care aide (who may do housework and provide hygienic care to a patient who is incapable of bathing and caring for him- or herself ), and physical, occupational, or speech therapist.

Paying Your Dues

All hospice nurses must be registered nurses (RNs) in addition to being certified by a state health department as a hospice worker. The first step is obtaining a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). Although RNs aren’t required to have bachelor’s degrees, many nursing career paths are only open to those with a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. Nursing education includes classroom instruction and supervised training in hospitals, as well as courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, behavioral sciences, and, of course, nursing. On top of the recommended bachelor’s degree, all states require prospective nurses to graduate from an accredited nursing school and successfully pass a national licensing examination. Then, to become a certified hospice nurse, you must have a current license as an RN and at least two years of full-time experience as an RN in a hospice-nursing practice, and you must pass the exam administered by the National Board for the Certification of Hospice Nurses.

Associated Careers

Hospice nursing requires a unique assembly of traits and talents. Careers that are most likely to attract hospice nurses require medical knowledge and involve patient care, but tend not to deal with terminal cases and have higher salaries on average. Hospice nurses come into contact with many of these occupations during their work. Former hospice workers may pursue careers as occupational therapists, paramedics, physical therapists, and physician assistants.

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