How to Become a Hospice Nurse
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Hospice nurses perform a vital role in healthcare, providing nursing for patients who are expected to live six months or less. The work is emotionally demanding, but it can also be emotionally rewarding.
This guide describes the process of becoming a hospice nurse and what hospice nurses do. Discover more about this career path and how to become a hospice nurse.
What Is a Hospice Nurse?
Hospice nurses care for terminal patients typically in the last six months of their lives. Hospice nurses can work in patient homes, hospice care settings, or hospitals. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and nurse assistants. They often collaborate with social workers, clergy, or others who provide care and comfort for patients and their families.
Hospice nursing emphasizes easing symptoms and keeping patients as comfortable as possible. This usually involves administering medications, wound care, and ensuring that medical equipment is functioning.
While not expected to do the work of a psychologist or social worker, learning how to become a hospice nurse does require learning how to provide emotional reassurance and support.
Steps to Becoming a Hospice Nurse
The first step in becoming a hospice nurse is earning a nursing degree and then a registered nurse (RN) license. After working as a hospice nurse, many seek certification.
Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
An ADN takes two years, while a bachelor of science in nursing takes four years. The BSN is valuable for higher-level positions and if you plan to earn a master's degree. If you have an ADN and nursing experience, you can later enroll in an RN-to-BSN degree program, which generally takes one year.
Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive RN licensure.
The NCLEX-RN is a multiple-choice examination covering nursing skills, including safety, administering medication and treatments, testing patients and taking samples, effective communication, and legal and ethical practices.
Gain experience in hospice nursing.
Once you have your license, the next step in becoming a hospice nurse is an entry-level hospice nursing position. This might be in a hospice program or some other setting that provides end-of-life palliative care, such as a nursing home.
Consider becoming a certified hospice and palliative nurse.
While you do not have to have certification to become a hospice nurse, earning hospice and palliative nurse certification demonstrates your knowledge of hospice nursing and your commitment to this area.
You must have at least 500 hours of RN experience in hospice or palliative care in the most recent 12 months (or 1,000 hours in the most recent 24 months), a current and unencumbered nursing license, and a passing grade on the certification examination.
Featured Online RN-to-BSN in Programs
Hospice Nurse Education
Becoming a hospice nurse requires earning a nursing degree, either an ADN or a BSN. The right pathway for you will depend on your background and goals.
An ADN is faster, taking half the time a BSN requires. ADN programs typically are less competitive and more affordable. However, a BSN is more valuable for higher-level positions or if you want to become an advanced practice registered nurse.
High school diploma or GED certificate, math and science classes, typically open admission
Nursing skills, communication, how healthcare functions, legal and ethical considerations
Time to Complete
Administering medication, using medical equipment, treating wounds, monitoring patient vital signs and condition, updating medical records
The BSN includes more material on the theory and practice of nursing, nursing leadership, and research- and evidence-based practice than the ADN degree. This is why many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN for higher-level positions and why you need a BSN or bridge equivalent to earn a master's degree.
High school diploma or GED certificate, math and science classes, typically a 3.0 GPA or higher
Nursing skills, leadership, data and research analysis, communications, how healthcare works, legal and ethical considerations
Time to Complete
Giving out medication, caring for wounds, taking and monitoring patient vital signs, understanding and applying evidence-based practice, performing basic nursing analytics
Hospice Nurse Licensure and Certification
You must hold and maintain an RN license to work as a hospice nurse. Maintaining your license requires verified continuing education for nurses, such as attending approved conferences, classes, or webinars. It can also be completing approved reading/study and passing a test.
Certification is not required for becoming a hospice nurse, but it is a valuable credential. The Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center offers the certified hospice and palliative nurse (CHPN) credential. Requirements include at least 500 hours of experience in hospice or palliative care in the last 12 months or 1,000 hours in the last 24 months, a current and unencumbered RN license, and passing the certification examination.
CHPNs must renew their certification every four years. This involves fulfilling practice hour requirements, continuing professional education requirements, completion of an application, and fee payment.
Working as a Hospice Nurse
With more hospitals and health systems providing end-of-life care at home, hospice nurses may work in homes and hospice facilities or nursing homes.
In a home setting, hospice nurse responsibilities may include educating family or friends on how to help keep the patient comfortable. Depending on the setting and patient's needs and preferences, hospice nurses often work with social workers, psychologists, and other mental wellness care providers. Some may also work with clergy.
According to Salary.com, the average pay for hospice nurses is $86,060 as of June 2022. Salaries vary based on experience, education, certification, and local demand and cost of living.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Hospice Nurse
How long does it take to become a hospice nurse?
Becoming a hospice nurse takes at least two years to earn an ADN degree. For certification, you must have at least 500 hours of experience (around 25% of one year's work) as a hospice or palliative nurse.
What qualifications do you need to work in hospice?
In addition to an RN license, you must be able to maintain both empathy and professionalism when caring for patients who are dying. You should also communicate effectively with families. If you provide care at home, you must have access to transportation, typically your own car, driver's license, and clear driving record.
Is hospice nursing flexible?
Whether you can get a flexible schedule depends on your employer and work setting. Work in a larger facility such as a nursing home or hospital may offer more flexibility since there are more nurses available to cover shifts.
Do hospice nurses get paid well?
Hospice nurses earn an average $86,060 as of June 2022, according to Salary.com. This is higher than the median $77,600 that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for all RNs.
Page last reviewed June 12, 2022
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