How to Become a Hospice Nurse

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Hospice nurse sitting beside a senior man in his bed at home.

Do empathy and compassion come naturally to you? Are you an avid patient advocate and stellar communicator? Does the idea of providing nursing care in a patient’s home light you up? If you said yes, hospice nursing may be the career choice for you.

Just what is a hospice nurse? We’re glad you asked. We’ll explain what they are and walk you through how to become a hospice nurse, including what they do, where they work, and what education they need.

What Is a Hospice Nurse?

A hospice nurse is a registered nurse (RN) that cares for people who are at the end of their life. As opposed to focusing on curative measures, hospice care focuses on providing comfort and improving the quality of life of patients with serious, incurable illnesses. Instead of extending a patient’s life, the focus is on extending comfort at the end of their lives.

What Does a Hospice Nurse Do?

Hospice nurses provide many of the same tasks as other nurses, but their focus and intentions are different. Hospice nurses provide interventions that relieve symptoms and make patients more comfortable.

Common hospice nurse duties include:

  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Administering medications
  • Managing pain
  • Advocating for patients
  • Providing psychosocial support
  • Educating family and caregivers
  • Providing crisis care

Hospice vs. Palliative Care Nursing

As you research how to become a hospice nurse, you’ve likely come across palliative care nursing. These two roles have many things in common — both focus on quality of life and comfort.

Palliative care is a type of specialized medical care for anyone living with a serious health condition, like dementia or cancer. It’s meant to enhance a person’s care to improve their quality of life while also treating their condition. Thus, it focuses both on treatment and symptom relief.

Hospice care is a type of medical care for people with incurable illnesses. Typically, hospice patients have a prognosis of six months or fewer. Nursing care is tailored to symptom relief, and unnecessary interventions are avoided and discouraged. Care is often provided in the person’s home through home health nurses or private duty care.

What Education Is Needed to Become a Hospice Nurse?

Naturally, as you consider how to become a hospice nurse, you are curious about the education requirements. As you can guess, your first step is to become a RN. There are many routes to do this, but essentially you will need to pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

Next, you’ll need to take the national exam, NCLEX-RN, to become a registered nurse. After passing your exam, you’re ready to start working as a RN.

Employers will typically require hospice nurses to have two to three years’ experience in acute care nursing, as they will be working in settings with little support (i.e. patients’ homes) and providing crisis care. This can be completed in the intensive care unit or emergency department.

Get Your Hospice Nurse Certification

While having a hospice nurse certification is not required, many employers encourage it. It demonstrates your expertise and dedication to excellence in this speciality. And depending on your employer, it may even boost your salary.

Consider some of these hospice nurse certifications:

Depending on the nursing certification you choose, your eligibility requirements may vary. Do note that you will likely need experience in hospice nursing, a minimum amount of practice hours, and an active, unencumbered RN license.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Hospice Nurse?

It takes about five to seven years to become a hospice nurse, when you consider the time to become a RN and time gaining nursing experience. Depending on if you start your nursing career with an ADN or BSN, your journey to becoming a hospice nurse could take longer. Once you’re qualified, you’ll also need to create a solid hospice nurse resume and navigate the job search.

What Skills Make a Good Hospice Nurse?

The hospice nurse you want caring for you or your family member is competent and compassionate. All good nurses have the art and science of nursing down pat. Hospice nurses, however, require extra emotional bandwidth when caring for a patient, and their family, at the end of their life.

The following hospice nurse skills are essential:

  • Compassion and empathy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Effective communication
  • Acute care nursing skills
  • Honesty and patience

Where Do Hospice Nurses Work?

When you think about how to become a hospice nurse, you probably wonder where you can work. Because of the work hospice nurses do, most work inside patients’ homes. However, some patients receive hospice care in a variety of settings, influencing where a hospice nurse may work.

Common workplaces include:

  • Hospitals
  • Patients’ homes
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice care centers

How Much Does a Hospice Nurse Make?

The average hospice nurse salary is around $82,000 per year. Like with other nursing specialties, your degree, location, and experience level will determine your exact salary in this position.

Ready for Your Next Steps?

Now that you’ve learned how to become a hospice nurse, are you ready to take that next step and explore training options? We can help you gain professional experience to pursue this career path.