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Career Story: Visiting Hospice Nurse

Visiting Hospice Nurse

Job Title: Hospice Nurse

Type of Company: I work for a hospice agency that serves suburban Washington, DC.

Education: BA, Sociology, Mount St. Mary's College •• BSN, Nursing, George Mason University

Previous Experience: I worked for eighteen years as staff nurse in a cardiac telemetry unit.

Job Tasks: Our company's mission is to provide for the health and medical needs of people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Hospice patients are patients whose condition is hopeless and who've been given less than six months to live. As a registered nurse (RN), I care for these hospice patients whether they live at home or at a nursing home or assisted living center, even at a hospital.

On an average day, I visit from one to five patients and have to travel to more than one location to do so. Visits start with a physical, where I check the patient's status and see if she's been having any pain (or experiencing any other problems). I often help her to organize her medicines and order more. If a patient wants something changed -- a dosage increased, for example -- I will help with that also. I coordinate these changes with a doctor, but my real imperative is to shield the patient from suffering and make her final days as comfortable as possible.

When I'm not paying actual visits, I coordinate the patient's care with a medical doctor (with a hospice specialty), a social worker, a chaplain and office manager (the official hospice "team"), and we meet on a regular basis to discuss these efforts and make sure the patient's cared for in the most effective possible way.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is caring for people and finding ways to make their final weeks more tolerable: to bring them joy or comfort or a little peace of mind. I get a lot of "thank you"'s from my patients and their families.

The worst part of the job is getting dragged out of bed at three o'clock in the morning because a patient needs me. Nurses, unlike doctors, still make house calls.

Job Tips: Registered nurses have a tremendous number of options open to them. You can work in a hospital or a doctor's office or a surgical center, or in home care or teaching or administration. The possibilities are almost endless. And it's an especially good job to have when you are trying to raise a family, because there are many part-time positions and you can work both nights and weekends. Nursing school, however, is a lot of work and you will need basic math skills (though you don't have to be a math genius).

Additional Thoughts: Nursing is a very fulfilling and satisfying job. And you can learn a lot doing it. But it helps to be compassionate.

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