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Hospice Nurse Career Overview

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Hospice nurses provide care to patients with terminal conditions, typically in hospitals, residential care settings, or the patient’s home. This challenging career can prove very rewarding to nurses passionate about end-of-life care.

Hospice Nurse Career in Brief

Hospice nurses care for patients with terminal conditions, often focusing on keeping the patient as comfortable as possible and minimizing pain. They work under the supervision of physicians or advanced practice nurses and may supervise nursing assistants.

adn or bsn required
certification options
Key Tasks
  • Administering medicine, particularly pain management medication
  • Treating and dressing wound sites
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Providing psychological and emotional support for patients and families
Career Traits
  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Emotional resilience

Image: LWA / Stone / Getty Images

Certification Options: Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse (CHPN); Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse (ACHPN);
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Administrator (CHPCA); Certified Hospital and Palliative Pediatric Nurse (CHPPN)

Where Do Hospice Nurses Work?

Hospice nurses work in hospitals, residential care centers, and in patient homes.

Provide care to ease symptoms and keep the patient as physically comfortable as possible; collaborate with clinical and non-clinical staff; communicate with family
Home Health
Administer medical treatment; meet patients’ needs; educate family caregivers
Hospice Care Centers
Admit new patients; communicate with family; provide care; supervise nursing assistants

Why Become a Hospice Nurse?

Advantages To Becoming a Hospice Nurse

  • High demand
  • Hospice nurse jobs pay above-average compensation
  • Emotionally fulfilling
  • Generally predictable schedules

Disadvantages To Becoming a Hospice Nurse

  • Requires establishing relationships with patients with terminal conditions
  • Homecare requires reliable transportation
  • Must maintain emotional equilibrium during contact with patients and families

How To Become a Hospice Nurse

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), or a master of science in nursing (MSN)
An associate degree typically takes two years to complete while a BSN takes four years. An MSN typically takes six years. Some nurses start with a BSN and later pursue an MSN degree.

Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure
RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to practice. This examination takes up to six hours and covers various aspects of medicine, nursing practice, and ethics/legal issues.

Gain required nursing experience
Typically, hospice nurses have two or three years experience in an acute care setting before starting hospice care.

Consider a certification offered by the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center
Certification is not a legal requirement to practice as a hospice nurse but is valuable for finding a job or receiving a promotion. Multiple specialty certifications are available.

Certification Options for Hospice Nurses

  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Administrator (CHPCA)

    This certification is no longer offered to new applicants, but hospice nurses with current CHPCA certification can continue to recertify through ongoing clinical work and accruing continuing education hours.

  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN)

    For CHPN certification, hospice nurses should hold at least 500 hours of experience in the last year as a palliative care or hospice nurse, or 1,000 hours in the last two years of work, hold an unrestricted RN license, and pass an examination.

  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse (CHPPN)

    Hospice nurses seeking CHPPN certification need at least 500 hours of experience in the last year of palliative care and pediatric nursing, or 1,000 hours in the past two years. They also need an unrestricted RN license and a passing grade on the examination.

  • Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN)

    The ACHPN certification is for advanced practice nurses and requires either certified nurse specialist or nurse practitioner status, recent experience as a palliative care or hospice nurse, an unrestricted RN license, and a passing score on the certification exam.

How Much Do Hospice Nurses Make?

The average hospice nurse salary is $67,250. Nurses with a BSN degree make more than those with an ADN and advanced practice nurses and nurse practitioners earn more than BSN-holders.

RN jobs are projected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029. Hospice nurse jobs may likely grow faster, given the aging U.S. population and the growth of hospice care in general, especially in-home hospice care.

Find State-Specific Salary Data Here

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to become a hospice nurse?

    Hospice nurse jobs require a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN, and then typically 2-3 more years of experience as an acute care nurse, depending on certification type.

  • Can hospice nurses prescribe medicine?

    Only advanced practice hospice nurses, such as certified nurse specialists and nurse practitioners, can prescribe medicine, such as controlled substances. Hospice nurses without this certification cannot prescribe medication.

  • What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

    Palliative care involves reducing pain and distress for those with serious chronic conditions, whether or not the condition is terminal. Hospice care emphasizes managing pain and psychological distress specifically for those with terminal conditions.

  • Who do hospice nurses work alongside on a hospice team?

    Hospice nurses work alongside physicians or advanced practice nurses who prescribe treatments. They often supervise certified nursing assistants and collaborate with chaplains, social workers, psychologists, and others who provide non-clinical care.

Resources for Hospice Nurses

  • Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association The Hospice and Palliative Nurse Association offers education, certification, networking, and professional development resources to its members. It also engages in advocacy for hospice and palliative care as part of healthcare. Membership is open to RNs and nursing assistants.
  • American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine provides education, resources, and networking for physicians engaged in hospice and palliative care. However, membership is also open to hospice nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals in hospice or palliative care.
  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization's membership consists of hospice and palliative care providers, provider networks, and individual healthcare professionals. It provides resources for hospice and palliative care administration and also engages in advocacy to enhance access to holistic healthcare.

Related Pages

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Clarke

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Nicole Galan, RN, MSN is a registered nurse who started in a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care where she worked for almost 10 years. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. Galan currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.

Feature Image: MartinPrescott / E+ / Getty Images

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