Hospice nurses offer care to people nearing the end of their lives in hospice centers, nursing facilities and private homes. A hospice nurse performs a range of duties, including administering medication and massages to assist with patient comfort. Hospice nurses work with physicians, Licensed Practice Nurses, nursing assistants and social workers. The average salary of a hospice nurse as of July 2010 was $50,000 according to Simply Hired, a job search engine.
Registered Nurse Skills
A hospice nurse needs to qualify as a registered nurse by completing a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or diploma program from an accredited nursing school, community college or university. These programs will teach students basic care giving and symptom management skills essential for working in hospitals and hospices. Candidates are then required to complete the National Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN).
According to the Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association, hospice nurses usually hold master’s degrees in Hospice and Palliative Nursing. Skills learned during a master’s degree program include acute care strategies, geriatrics, biology, psychology and medicine. Candidates also learn about end-stage disease processes, counseling families through grief, patient advocacy and the legal aspects of palliative care. Hospice nurses use these skills to manage recurrent symptoms in terminally ill patients and restore a patient’s sense of well being. They also often assist patients with accomplishing basic daily tasks. Although a master’s degree provides a wealth of specialized hospice care skills, it is not a requirement and many registered nurses without a master’s degree work in hospice settings.
Mental Illness Awareness
Many patients in hospices are elderly and may be suffering from mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson, in addition to their physical ailments. Hospice nurses should be skilled in communicating with patients with mental illness and understanding their specific needs.
A hospice nurse should provide concentrated care that meets the specific needs of individual patients. Care requirements and attitudes to illness differ across social and religious groups, so hospice nurses must ensure they provide care that is culturally sensitive to differing needs.
Hospice nurses must demonstrate excellent communication skills and compassion. They are required to respond to every aspect of patient care and update patients’ families on their condition and the means that have been undertaken to ensure the patient remains comfortable and free of pain. A hospice nurse should be able to counsel patients and their families and help them understand the purpose of treatment regimens for alleviating pain and improving life quality. A hospice nurse should also have excellent observational skills to alert physicians and fellow nursing staff of any critical changes in the health of a patient.
Hospice nurses should be strong emotionally and mentally. Encountering death and serious illness on a daily basis may lead to depression and emotional fragility in candidates unprepared for the impact. Remaining stable is important not only for hospice nurses but also for patients who rely on them as sources of emotional strength and consistency during difficult times.