Hospice Nurse: Job Description & Career Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a hospice nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Hospice nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who provide care for critically ill patients. They work with patients, their families and other healthcare professionals during the final stages of life. An undergraduate degree and national licensing is necessary to become a nurse, and graduate training in hospice nursing is also available. Certification in hospice nursing is recommended and may be required for some jobs.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing at minimum; master's-level programs in hospice nursing are also available
Licensure and Certification RN licensure is required; national certification in hospice nursing may be required in some states and by some employers
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*19% for all registered nurses
Median Salary (2013)* $66,220 for all registered nurses

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses work to maintain the comfort and quality of life for those who are diagnosed with terminal diseases. They work in private homes, residential care facilities, nursing centers and other hospice care environments. They may also supervise licensed vocational nurses (also known as licensed practical nurses) and nursing aides in hospital settings.

They must be capable of compassionate communication with patients and their families. Hospice nurses need to have keen observation skills, high ethical standards and knowledge of when to alert doctors and others about changes in patient conditions. They must be resilient and sympathetic, and they should have emotional and physical stability to deal with the challenges of severe illness and death.

Job Requirements

Educational Background

Obtaining a career as a hospice nurse requires becoming a registered nurse. RN prospects must complete an undergraduate education and gain relevant work experience. Options include earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A combination of classroom education and training in a clinical environment is required. Common class topics include:

  • Health assessment
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing skills and fundamentals

Licensing Requirements

In order to become a RN, individuals must pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This is required by all territories and states in the U.S. Passing this exam proves nurses have the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct treatment in the real world. Additional requirements vary by state and employer.

Further Training and Certification

Hospice nurses often pursue a master's degree in hospice and palliative nursing, according to the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (www.hpna.org). Those with a master's degree are typically considered advanced practice nurses rather than RNs. Training for advanced practice hospice nurses includes taking classes in medical and biological ethics, acute care, geriatrics and psychology.

Employers or state laws may require additional certification in order to provide hospice care. The National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses (www.nbchpn.org) offers nationally recognized certification across a variety of levels for hospice nurses. Hospice experience and a current RN license are required in order to take these certification exams. Renewal is necessary every four years.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, (www.bls.gov), predicts that jobs will increase by 19% for registered nurses between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for registered nurses was $66,220 as of May 2013.

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