Although many people don’t like to think about death and dying, it will happen eventually. When it does, those who are fortunate enough to have hospice and palliative care nurses caring for them will understand the importance of these nurses’ roles.
Palliative and hospice care nurses provide care for those who are the end of their lives. They are there for the final transition and use an entire array of medical knowledge and tools, skills, compassion, and life experiences to help in the best ways they can. Hospice and palliative care nurses strive to make patients as comfortable as possible both physically and emotionally. As their physical body shuts down, these nurses can use a combination of medication, music, talk, touch, and companionship to make the process something the patient is comfortable with.
The Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offer resources and education about this nursing specialty. Palliative and hospice nurses often provide education to the public as many people think of nurses as providing life-saving care and aren’t sure what end-of-life care entails. If they haven’t had interactions with hospice care, they may not comprehend all that goes into the nursing practice as someone approaches end of life.
While many find the end-of-life stage difficult to cope with, these nurses often consider it a supreme privilege to be present during someone’s last days. Nurses often develop deep connections with these patients as they try to meet their wishes and help them die with a sense of dignity and control. They also become close to families and even provide guidance and education to help families cope and to make them feel like they can take an active part in offering comfort and acceptance.
Hospice and palliative care nurses deal with grief, often very profound grief, on a daily basis. While the dying patient is coping with life coming to an end, a circle of loved ones is doing the same and trying to prepare for life after the person’s death, while also making the most of the final days. These nurses are especially skilled in managing grief and helping others learn coping skills while they still focus fully on the patient.
Hospice nurses need to take special care to make sure they are also able to cope with profound levels of grief and death in their lives so they don’t get burned out or experience compassion fatigue. Forming strong relationships with other nurses in this specialty is important as is joining professional organizations devoted to hospice and palliative care and even continuing education like certification or additional coursework or conferences. There is much to be learned from others in similar work and hearing how they cope and even what might be a red flag to take notice of. Turning to others and counseling professionals if needed can help nurses stay focused while acknowledging and honoring the challenges of providing end-of-life care on a daily basis.
This career path is one that offers great rewards and hospice nurses are often remembered as a steady presence in a chaotic time.