Hospice Nurse Training, Degree and Certification Options

While many nursing degree programs may include training in hospice care for terminally ill patients, certificate and master's degree programs in palliative care are available for nurses who want to specialize in end-of-life care and treatment of the seriously ill.

Essential Information

Emphasizing clinical experience and topics such as hospice nursing theories, pharmacology and pain management, these programs prepare advanced practice nurses to become palliative care nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists in hospice work. Experienced licensed nurses who successfully pass requisite examinations may earn professional certification in hospice and palliative care.

  • Program Levels in Hospice Nursing: Graduate certificates, master's degrees, post-master's certificates.
  • Prerequisites: Graduate certificate programs and master's programs generally require that students are registered nurses with a bachelor's degree. Post-master's certificates require that applicants are registered nurses who've completed their master's degree and are licensed nurse practitioners. Some programs require prerequisite coursework.
  • Other Requirements: Clinical experience.
  • Online Availability: Online courses are available.

Graduate Certificate in Palliative Care

Graduate certificate programs in palliative care are for registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who want to work with hospice patients. Programs instruct nurses in ways to connect with patients dealing with end-of-life issues and how to assess their needs and provide effective treatment. Some schools open their programs up to other health care professionals.

Graduate certificate programs may consist of 3-6 courses, offering an intense look at the needs of people facing terminal illnesses. Course topics may include:

  • Hospice nursing care
  • Pharmacology for hospice patients
  • Social and cultural issues relating to health care
  • Nursing theories

Master's Degree in Palliative Care

Although somewhat rare, master's degree programs are available for students learning to be advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists who want training in hospice and palliative care. These programs focus on assessing health in hospice patients and learning ways to keep patients comfortable while helping them deal with issues of grief and loss. Opportunities for clinical experience are available in hospice or similar health care settings. Students may also be asked to specialize in a particular patient age group.

Some schools limit applications to registered nurses only, while others allow applications from those with a bachelor's degree in another area. Registered nurses may be required to successfully complete a statistics course prior to entering. Other bachelor degree applicants may also be required to have completed significant prerequisite coursework in subjects such as microbiology, human anatomy and psychology.

Master's degree programs place emphasis on clinical experience, along with courses that focus on advanced practice nursing. Some course topics may be:

  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Health assessment
  • Pain and suffering
  • Advanced illness
  • Elderly primary care
  • Adult primary care

Post-Master's Certificate in Palliative Care

Post-master's certificate programs in palliative care are for nurse practitioners who have already earned a master's degree and want to specialize in end-of-life care. While students learn to assess and manage the care of patients with terminal illnesses, they are also taught ways to work with affected families. Focus is placed on maintaining the highest possible quality of life while helping patients manage their pain.

Most programs require applicants to be registered nurses, have a master's degree in nursing and be licensed as nurse practitioners. In addition, applicants should have completed courses in pharmacology, advanced health assessment, primary care and pathophysiology.

Like the master's degree program in palliative care, the curriculum in a post-master's certificate program focuses heavily on clinical experience working in a palliative care facility. Some course topics may be:

  • Theories in end-of-life care
  • Managing pain
  • Common health problems
  • Grief and bereavement
  • Spiritual practices in health care

Certification Information

Any nurse with an unrestricted nursing license and at least two years experience in nursing in a hospice environment is eligible to earn the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) credential by sitting for the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses certification exam. The organization also has certification credentials for palliative care administrators.

For advanced practice nurses who have completed a master's degree program or post-master's certificate program in palliative care, an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN) credential is offered by the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses. Passing a rigorous exam is required. The organization also offers educational resources, newsletters and other materials to members.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs for all registered nurses will increase by 19% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Nurses account for the largest segment of health care workers. The BLS reported the median annual salary for all registered nurses was $66,640 in May 2014.

PayScale.com reported a median salary for acute care nurse practitioners of $90,685 as of June 2015. Advanced registered nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $85,846.

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