As November draws to a close, the end of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month also winds down. Many families spent an unsettled holiday weekend without loved ones, either because they wanted to be safe and not gather with people outside their immediate households or they were unable to travel. In many other cases, illness, from COVID-19 or otherwise, prevented loved ones being together. Still other families have suffered the loss of a loved one this year.

As a pandemic continues to move swiftly into every community in the United States, the subject of death and dying and end-of-life care is much more at the forefront in our society right now. As palliative care and hospice nurses see all the time, many families enter into the last stages of a loved one’s life without any real understanding of what kind of care wishes their loved one would like them to follow.

These last two days of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month focus on end-of-life care and advocacy to spread awareness of how discussions about end-of-life preferences and choices need to happen long before they are actually necessary. While many of us aren’t inclined to have such difficult conversations during the holidays, finding a time when you’re able to start the discussion can save confusion and doubt when you need the information. As a nurse, this is a good opportunity to remind your patients of the value of talking about their wishes with their loved ones.

Palliative care and hospice nurses are often able to help guide families during the last months of life as they care for someone with a life-limiting illness. While the patient is given the best care to make them as comfortable as possible, nurses in this specialty also assist families who may be struggling with sadness and uncertainty about their loved one’s condition.

This area of nursing is growing quickly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts growing need for palliative and hospice care workers to meet increasing demand. As the baby boomer segment of the American population continues to age, the need for hospice and palliative care will become more pressing.

It’s essential to have enough workers to fill the hospice nursing need, and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice advocates for all the professionals in this industry. As a registered nurse, you can provide case manager services as well as direct medical care. If you’re a nurse practitioner, you’ll have additional responsibility and duties, including prescribing the medications that help your patients manage any pain they may be experiencing. LPNs provide the comforting physical care and companionship so essential during a person’s last days.

If you think this nursing specialty is a good fit for you, getting additional work experience in a palliative care and hospice care setting will help you make a decision. Working with people at the end of their lives is incredibly rewarding for hospice nurses, but the role isn’t for everyone. If you decide to move forward, becoming a certified hospice and palliative nurse (CHPN) gives you the additional education and knowledge you’ll need to be most effective in this position.

A career in palliative care and hospice nursing is rewarding as you help bring a sense of dignity to a patient’s final days.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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