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Palliative Care Nurse Career Overview

Janice Monti, Ph.D.
Updated November 23, 2022
Reviewed by
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Want to learn more about a career in palliative care nursing? Explore how to become a palliative care nurse, work settings, and salary prospects.
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How Long to Become

2-4 years

Job Outlook

9% increase from 2020-2030
(for all RNs)

Average Annual Salary

(Payscale/August 2022)

Palliative care offers registered nurses (RNs) a challenging but highly rewarding career providing compassionate care to patients and their families during very difficult times. Palliative care nurses help relieve pain, and they extend comfort and support to critically ill patients or those nearing the end of their lives. These RNs also assist patients and their families with care plans and end-of-life decisions.

As the U.S. population ages, a growing number of patients will require the skills and services of palliative care nurses. These nursing specialists can expect to find employment opportunities in numerous settings, such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospices, and private homes.

Discover what a palliative care nurse does and how to become one.

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What Does a Palliative Care Nurse Do?

ADN or BSN Required
Certification Optional

Nurses who specialize in palliative care provide short-term or long-term services. They offer curative care to critically ill patients or relief and comfort for the terminally ill. They also support families, providing practical advice and bereavement care.

Palliative care nurses work with patient populations across the life span. Patients encompass a broad range of persistent, critical, or recurring medical conditions that restrict daily life or reduce life expectancy.

While often working with the elderly, these RNs may provide care for patients of all ages diagnosed with conditions such as cancer, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, or dementia. They also care for patients with life-threatening injuries or those living with disabilities dependent on assistive care.

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Key Responsibilities

  • Monitor pain and provide pain management
  • Alleviate physical symptoms
  • Administer medications
  • Provide emotional support
  • Educate and advise families about patients’ conditions

Career Traits

  • Stamina to work in physically and mentally demanding settings
  • Ability to manage stress and emotional trauma
  • Counseling and advocacy skills in support of patients and families
  • Capacity to offer compassion and empathy for families coping with loss
  • Collaboration with doctors and other healthcare providers to deliver appropriate palliative care

Where Do Palliative Care Nurses Work?

Palliative care nurses find employment in several healthcare environments that serve critically ill patients, the elderly, and those in the end stages of life. While hospitals, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes are among the most common employers, they also work in veterans’ homes, correctional facilities, and mental health clinics. A growing number of these RNs work in outpatient settings, including specialized palliative care clinics and home care.


As part of the hospital’s palliative care team, these nurses collaborate with doctors, other nurses, and healthcare specialists to provide curative treatment for seriously ill patients and offer comfort and support for terminally ill patients. They carry out treatment plans, administer medications, and provide pain management. They also educate families and caregivers on the patient’s condition and treatment options.


Palliative care nurses in hospice settings provide end-of-life care for patients with six months or less to live. They generally do not offer curative treatments. Their duties include relieving pain and addressing the emotional and spiritual needs of patients. They assist families with end-of-life decisions, grief counseling, and bereavement support.

Home care

Palliative care nurses in private homes travel to patients’ residences or live in their homes temporarily to provide one-on-one assistance. Their responsibilities include providing general nursing care, administering medications, and helping to manage pain. These nurses may also offer nonmedical support such as assistance with personal care and meal preparation.

How to Become a Palliative Care Nurse

If you are interested in becoming a palliative care nurse, you must first become a registered nurse. You must earn either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Once you complete your nursing degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to apply for an RN license in the state where you intend to practice. While RNs can enter the field with an ADN degree, many employers prefer to hire BSN-holders.

After finishing your nursing degree and getting your RN license, you should have at least two years of clinical experience working in an acute care or a critical care setting, such as a hospital emergency room or intensive care unit. This will help develop the nursing skills and coping mechanisms you need to work in a palliative care environment.

While an RN license provides validation of general nursing care, getting a specialized certification in palliative care nursing demonstrates a higher level of expertise and professional commitment. It can lead to greater career and salary opportunities.

TheHospice and Palliative Credentialing Centeroffers several hospice and palliative certification options for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses. RNs may pursue certifications as advanced certified hospice and palliative nurses, certified hospice and palliative nurses, and certified hospice and palliative pediatric nurses.

How Much Do Palliative Nurses Make?

The rapid growth of the aging population and the increasing public acceptance of palliative measures for seriously and terminally ill patients drive the demand for palliative care nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of all RNs, including palliative care nurses, to grow by9% between 2020 and 2030. In May 2021, RNs earned an hourly wage of $39.78, or an averageannual salary of $82,7500, well above the average annual wage of $58,260 for all occupations.

While entry-level salaries for palliative care nurses may be similar, RNs with BSN or graduate degrees and certifications can achieve higher salaries and greater opportunities for career advancement. In addition to educational background, earning potential for palliative care nurses depends on the type of employer, geographical location, and years of experience.

Frequently Asked Questions about Palliative Care Nurses

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a palliative care nurse?

Most students take between 2-4 years to earn a nursing degree, followed by completion of the NCLEX-RN exam. RNs interested in palliative care careers should also expect to spend a minimum of two years getting clinical experience in acute care or critical care healthcare settings.

question-mark-circleWhat’s the difference between a palliative care nurse and a hospice?

Hospice care provides comfort and support without offering curative measures to patients expected to live six months or less. Hospice patients may no longer have curative options available or may have chosen not to pursue further treatment.

Palliative care includes both curative and noncurative support for patients with serious illnesses or disabilities, no matter their diagnosis or the stage of their condition.

question-mark-circleWhat skills are important for palliative care nurses?

In addition to general medical knowledge and palliative nursing skills, these nurses must be keen observers and critical thinkers. Palliative care nurses must function in stressful conditions, caring for diverse patient populations with compassion and empathy.

question-mark-circleWhat is included in palliative care?

Palliative care provides relief from symptoms and stress for seriously ill or terminally ill patients. Palliative care RNs may offer physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support to patients and their families. Patients may receive palliative care at any stage in their illness, with or without curative treatments, based on their needs rather than their prognosis.

Page last reviewed August 4, 2022

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