How to Become a Hospice Nurse

Morganne Skinner, RN
Updated June 27, 2024
Edited by
Learn how to become a hospice nurse, from earning your RN license to gaining experience and certification. Find your path in providing end-of-life care to patients.
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Hospice care nurse helping patientCredit: Phynart Studio / E+ / Getty Images

Hospice nurses perform a vital role in healthcare, providing end-of-life care for patients. The work is emotionally demanding, but it can also be emotionally rewarding. Learn how to become a hospice nurse and what they do in this guide.

How Long to Become
2-4 years

Degree Required

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What Is a Hospice Nurse?

Hospice nurses care for terminal patients in the last six months of their lives. They can work in patients’ homes, hospice care settings, or hospitals.

Although hospice and palliative care nursing are similar, palliative care nurses work with patients at all stages of illness to improve quality of life, while hospice nurses work exclusively with patients at the end of life.

Hospice nurses collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, social workers, and caregivers to provide support 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 emotional 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. You can pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. However, employers often prefer a BSN or higher. After gaining experience in palliative or hospice care, many nurses seek certification.

  1. 1

    Earn an ADN or BSN degree

    An ADN takes two years, while a BSN takes four years. The BSN is valuable for career advancement, higher-level positions, and if you plan to earn a master’s degree. If you have an ADN and nursing experience, you can enroll in a one-year RN-to-BSN degree program later in your career.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX exam 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. Passing this exam enables you to legally practice as an RN.

  3. 3

    Gain experience in hospice nursing

    New nurses can gain entry-level palliative and/or hospice nursing experience at hospice facilities, home health agencies, nursing homes, or hospitals. They can also gain hospice experience through internships and volunteering.

  4. 4

    Consider becoming a certified hospice and palliative nurse

    While not mandatory, hospice and palliative nurse certification demonstrates your knowledge of hospice nursing and your commitment to the specialty. For certification, you need 500 hours of RN experience in hospice or palliative care in the past 12 months (or 1,000 hours in the past 24 months), a current unencumbered nursing license, and a passing grade on the certification examination from the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC).

Hospice Nurse Education

Becoming a hospice nurse requires earning a nursing degree, either an ADN or a BSN, and an RN license. The right pathway for you will depend on your background and goals.

ADN Degree

An ADN is faster, taking half the time a BSN requires. ADN programs typically are less competitive and more affordable. An ADN meets the minimum eligibility requirements for the NCLEX-RN exam and RN licensure. However, employers prefer or require a BSN for higher-level nursing positions.

  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate, math and science classes, 2.0 GPA or higher
  • Program Curriculum: Nursing skills, communication, nursing principles, legal and ethical considerations
  • Time to Complete: Two years
  • Skills Learned: Administering medication, using medical equipment, treating wounds, monitoring patient vital signs and condition, updating medical records

BSN Degree

In addition to the ADN curriculum, a BSN program also covers the theory and practice of nursing, nursing leadership, research, and evidence-based practice. This additional education is why many employers require or strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses. A BSN degree allows nurses to more easily pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN) later in their careers.

  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate, math and science classes, typically a 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Program Curriculum: Nursing skills, leadership, data and research analysis, communications, legal and ethical considerations
  • Time to Complete: Four years
  • Skills Learned: Medication administration, wound care, taking and monitoring patient vital signs, understanding and applying evidence-based practice, performing basic nursing analytics

Hospice Nurse Licensure and Certification

You need an active 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.

Specialty certification is not required for becoming a hospice nurse, but it is a valuable credential.

The HPCC offers the certified hospice and palliative nurse (CHPN) credential. Requirements include at least 500 hours of experience in hospice or palliative care in the past 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, completing an application, and paying a fee.

Working as a Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses work in homes, hospice facilities, and nursing homes. In a home setting, they educate family and friends on patient comfort care. Depending on the patient’s needs, hospice nurses work with social workers, clergy, psychologists, and other mental wellness care providers.

According to Payscale, the average hospice nurse’s salary was $73,337 per year as of May 2024. Nursing salaries vary based on education, experience, and geographic location, among other factors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6% job growth for all RNs from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the national average growth of 3% for all jobs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses provide end-of-life care to terminally ill patients. They focus on comfort and symptom management, collaborate with the healthcare team, and provide comprehensive emotional support to patients and their families.