What Does a Hospice Nurse Do?
Hospice nurses are specially trained to provide nursing care for dying patients. They help those with terminal illnesses to live as comfortably and independently as they can in the time they have left. Hospice patients are not expected to recover, so the primary focus of the hospice nurse is often pain management. Hospice patients often have serious terminal health problems due to end-stage cancer, heart disease, renal disease or COPD (a progressive lung disease). A hospice nurse closely monitors the patient to identify which stage of the disease the patient has entered, adjusting the pain management and treatment schedule accordingly. A major part of a hospice nurse’s job is educating patients and their families about the dying process and providing emotional support to them. Some hospice nurses work in home health care; others work in hospice medical facilities. A hospice nurse’s priority is to make sure a patient can live his or her last days in dignity with as little pain as possible.
How Can I Become a Hospice Nurse?
The first step toward becoming a hospice nurse is to complete an approved nursing education program. The most common way of doing this is to earn a degree in nursing. Most people earn either an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university. Less common is earning a nursing diploma, a program typically offered through hospitals. After completing a nursing program, all future nurses go on to take an exam called the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) so they can become licensed to practice nursing in their state. Many hospice nurses gain experience as a staff nurse in a hospital or clinic and later in home health care before seeking training as a hospice nurse. After gaining experience treating hospice patients, a nurse can proceed to become credentialed as a board certified hospice nurse through the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses.
What Is the Career and Salary Outlook for a Hospice Nurse?
The career outlook for nurses overall is excellent, and those who specialize in a particular area of health care, such as hospice nursing, are often highly sought-after. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospice nurses can expect to see excellent job prospects over the next 10 years due to the aging of the baby boomers—as the elderly population in the U.S. surges, so will the demand for nurses trained to work in hospice care. The average annual salary for a hospice nurse is $50,000, according to SimplyHired.com, a site that calculates average salaries based on what is listed in the job postings it receives. However, a number of factors can affect a hospice nurse’s salary, including how many years of experience you have, what certifications you have, what region of the U.S. you live in, and whether you are working in a metropolitan or rural area. Advanced practice nurses (who are trained at the master’s level) also earn significantly higher salaries on average.