A movement toward sensitive and caring hospice care has evolved in the United States over the past twenty-five years. Hospice nurses provide psychosocial, emotional and spiritual care and pain relief to patients in the final stages of life, as they protect patients from unnecessary painful therapies. Hospice providers promote quality of life by protecting patients under the guidelines of the Medicare Benefit Act of 1983, a federal program that allows patients to die in their homes with their families and friends at their side with limited unnecessary interventions.

Palliative care, the more recent area of specialization, is defined by the Last Acts Task Force (1999) as the “comprehensive management of the physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and existential needs of patients, particularly those with incurable, progressive illness. The goal of palliative care is to help them achieve the best possible quality of life through relief of suffering, control of symptoms, and restoration of functional capacity, while remaining sensitive to personal, cultural and religious values, believes and practices.” The care that both hospice and palliative care nurses provide is essentially the same as demonstrated by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Role Delineation Study; however, hospice and palliative care nurses differ in their preparation and practice settings.

Duties of a Hospice Nurse

Hospice and palliative care nurses work in collaboration with other health providers within the context of an interdisciplinary team. This team, which may include physicians, social workers and religious leaders, is expected to blend strengths to anticipate and meet the needs of the patient and family facing terminal illness and bereavement. Hospice and palliative care includes 24-hour nursing availability, management of pain and other symptoms, and family support. By providing expert management of pain and other symptoms combined with compassionate listening and counseling skills, hospice and palliative nurse promote the highest quality of life for the patient and family.

Regardless of the setting, hospice and palliative nurses strive to achieve an understanding of specific end-of-life issues from the perspective of each patient and his or her family through a cultural understanding of that family. To that end, hospice and palliative nursing is practiced at the bedside and beyond, to community and professional education, participation in demonstration grants and in end-of-life research. Hospice and palliative care nurses often are called to public policy forums, including the legislative process, as society’s needs change and awareness of the issues that surround end of live issues increase.

Related Types of Nurses

Some hospice and palliative care nurses elect to sub-specialize in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, or geriatrics. These nurses often pursue advanced practice credentialing to achieve these goals. This skillset and goal orientation is similar to the substance abuse nurse, a person who treats addicted individuals and their families, but who may specialize in a particular drug of choice, or specialize in either patient or family care. Like hospice nurses, substance abuse nurses also must deal with death, dying and the grieving process.

Hospice Nursing Degrees

Employers expect hospice and palliative nurses to be registered nurses prepared at some degree level, from associate to master’s degree. A small percentage of hospice and palliative nurses hold doctoral degrees. In addition to these degrees, hospice and palliative care nurses may be expected to obtain certification in IV therapy, CPR and other emergency-care therapies.

Online Undergraduate Programs in Hospice Nursing

  • Colorado Technical University: RN to BSN
  • Drexel University: RN to BSN
  • Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences: RN to BSN
  • Indiana State University: LPN to BSN
  • Kaplan University: RN to BSN
  • Liberty University: RN to BSN
  • South University: RN to BSN
  • University of Phoenix: RN to BSN
  • Walden University: BSN

Online Graduate Programs in Hospice Nursing

  • American Sentinel University: RN to MSN
  • Benedictine University¬†: MSN
  • Brandman University: MSN to DNP
  • Grantham University: RN to MSN
  • Kaplan University: MSN
  • Keiser University: MSN
  • Ohio University: MSN
  • Spring Arbor University: MSN
  • South University: MSN
  • University of Massachusetts: DNP
  • University of Phoenix: MSN
  • University of Phoenix: PhD in Nursing
  • University of San Francisco: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: DNP
  • Walden University: RN to MSN