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The Role of a Hospice Nurse

Mahveen Hussain | posted September 06, 2011 | Bookmark and Share

Caring is the essence of nursing and that is particularly true in hospice, where nurses are present to help patients and families navigate the end-of-life journey.


This is a time when patients have stopped life-prolonging medical treatments and have begun pain management and other comfort measures and have started the process of closure. A hospice nurse is frequently asked to fill several vital roles, from medication supervision to emotional support. It can be difficult to care for patients with terminal illnesses, but more often, I see it become a meaningful journey for patients, families and those who work with them.


I have tremendous respect for the men and women who choose hospice nursing as their calling — and I believe it is a calling to be present with others as they prepare to die. As a culture, we often avoid thinking about or talking about death, but in hospice the philosophy is different. Because the end of life is imminent — usually a patient is admitted to hospice within the last six months of life — the patient and family can prepare themselves, say what needs to be said, and perhaps have long-wanted experiences.


A hospice nurse serves as a case manager and advocate for their patients. Their job is to monitor vital signs; manage medications, particularly for pain; and generally take care of the needs of the patient. Sometimes, this means helping a family learn to take care of their loved one at home; sometimes it means arranging for a a late-night run to the store for a food craving. For patients living at home, the nurse may help alleviate the burden of household tasks to allow the family to focus on their loved one. The hours are those of the patient, so late nights and weekends are on the schedule.


I’ve often heard hospice nurses called “angels” in the lives of those affected because of the comfort and ease they provide to patients in their final stages of life and to their families and friends. It certainly takes a special person with the right personality and temperament who can adjust to the powerful emotions that come with grief and loss. This should tell you just how important this job is and what a meaningful impact this work can have on others. In fact, most hospice nurses that I have spoken to feel that it was not they that found hospice to be their calling, but that hospice found them.


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