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Career Story: Hospice Nurse

Hospice Nurse

Job Title: Hospice Nurse

Type of Company: I work for a hospice agency providing comfort-focused care to patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less.

Education: AS, Nursing •• AS, Criminal Justice

Previous Experience: I worked as a combination unit coordinator and nurse's aide while attending nursing school.

Job Tasks: Hospice services are a benefit available under Medicare and most private insurance. Part of the hospice benefit is that there is a specially trained registered nurse available by phone 24 hours per day. The nurse is also available to make home visits on an emergency basis for symptom management. My position within the hospice is to be the weekend triage nurse and involves receiving calls from patients or their families that most often involve an uncontrolled symptom such as pain or nausea. My job is to assess the problem and make recommendations for medications and also arrange for an RN visit if appropriate.

Since calls can refer to all sorts of problems, I have other hospice team members available to assist the patient or family as well. If the issue involves a physical symptom such as pain, nausea, or confusion, I most often will handle it myself. If it involves poor communication within the family or is more emotional in nature, I will usually refer it to the social worker on call. If the issue is essentially spiritual or religious the hospice chaplain gets the call.

In summary, my position involves assessing the needs of the patients or families who call and either providing the care myself or hooking them up with a team member who can assist them most effectively.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Some of the best parts of the job are having the privilege of helping people in a true time of need. Through my training and experience I am able to improve peoples lives and alleviate their symptoms. This is very satisfying.

The worst part of the job is that you truly need to keep an emotional distance as all of the patients you deal with are terminally ill. Hospice has a large staff turnover as this is not something most can easily do.

Job Tips: Since excellent assessment skills are paramount, this is not a position to pursue directly out of nursing school. For a general hospice staff position, a strong foundation of working in a medical, surgical, or oncology nursing practice would be needed. In order to work as a hospice triage nurse specifically, 1-2 years of hospice experience is generally considered the minimum required.

Additional Thoughts: The most common response I get from people who ask what I do for work is "Oh, that must be so sad/depressing". Often they seem a bit shocked when I say "Actually, it's one of the most fulfilling jobs I've ever had and I can't ever see myself working in any other field of nursing again." It truly is a very fulfilling career choice.

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