Hospice nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in providing end-of-life care to critically ill patients and their families. Hospice care is traditionally provided to patients expected to live six months or less in a hospital, skilled nursing facility, hospice center, or at home. In addition to providing medical assistance and pain management to help dying patients remain as comfortable as possible, hospice nurses lend essential emotional, psychological, and spiritual support for coping with death. As more than one-third of dying Americans, around 900,000 people total, depend on hospice care every year, there is a growing demand for RNs to specialize in hospice nursing to meet the unique palliative needs of patients in their final days.


According to Payscale, hospice nurses earn a median yearly salary of $59,874, which can be translated to median wage of $25 per hour. Hospice nurses employed in home healthcare services tend to make more than average at $66,910 and those in skilled nursing facilities bring home around $62,010 each year.

Beginning Salary

When starting out, hospice nurses and other RNs typically earn an average beginning salary of $45,630 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With added experience and supervisory responsibilities, hospice nurses have the potential to make significantly more at around $96,320 annually.

Key Responsibilities

Hospice nurses are responsible for providing hands-on nursing care around the clock for patients at the final stages of life. Hospice nurses perform patient assessments, create hospice care plans, help manage pain, provide medications, and assist families in coping with their loss. Hospice nurses are the vital bridge of communication between patients, family members, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Hospice nurses often must coordinate with chaplains, ministers, rabbis, or other spiritual advisers to provide culturally sensitive end-of-life care. Some hospice nurses may also take on administrative tasks like ordering medications, obtaining necessary equipment, and filing records. Rather than focus on heroic measures to extend patients’ lives, hospice nurses deliver supportive care to alleviate painful symptoms.

Necessary Skills

Hospice nursing involves many stressful situations, so it’s essential that nurses be compassionate in providing console to grieving families while being resilient to avoid letting the stress affect their own lives. Hospice nurses must have strong critical thinking skills to keenly observe patients and notice changes that require urgent attention. Hospice nurses should have the interpersonal skills needed to communicate well with patients, families, doctors, and colleagues. Organization skills will also allow hospice nurses to act quickly under pressure and deliver the delicate care terminally ill patients deserve. Being detail-oriented is another plus for hospice nurses to always ensure vital signs and medications are monitored accurately.

Degree and Education Requirements

Before entering the field of hospice nursing, you’ll need to first fulfill the education requirements needed to become a registered nurse (RN). Currently, there are three separate routes that you can choose to receive an RN license in the United States. You can receive a nursing diploma, Associate of Nursing (ASN), or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited post-secondary institution. Since many states are pushing for nurses to possess a four-year degree, its recommended that you invest in a BSN program to build a general education with more advanced nursing skills and hands-on nursing practice. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is another option for those interested in advancing as nurse practitioners to manage the medical operations of hospice centers.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Working as a hospice nurse takes a special kind of person because counseling and guiding patients until they pass away is a challenge. Hospice nurses spend so much time caring for their dying patients and must deal with their attachment becoming severed often. It’s difficult for nurses to not be affected when death and terminal illness is around every day. Most hospice nurses are also given very high workloads with long 12-hour shifts to provide round-the-clock care. Some may also travel to patients’ own homes, which creates an unstable and unfamiliar work environment. Despite these cons, hospice nursing offers the rewarding opportunity to make people’s last days on Earth comfortable and meaningful. Hospice nurses take on varied roles working with a team of experts to advocate for every patient’s needs.

Getting Started

After earning your degree, the first step towards becoming a hospice nurse is to apply for and receive a passing grade on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam. Contact your state’s board of nursing to determine specific application procedures and testing times. Then, you’ll have the credentials needed to begin working independently as a registered nurse in any clinical setting you choose. You’ll likely need to obtain at least two years of RN experience working with geriatric patients before moving into the role of hospice nurse. From there, it’s advised that you build your professional prospects by pursuing the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) credential through the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC). You’ll need to pass a 150-question exam distributed across seven domains of practice for the care of elderly adult patients and complete continuing education every four years.

Future Outlook

Over the last five years, the demand for hospice care providers has grown drastically, and is expected to double within the next decade! As America’s large baby boomer population reaches the end of life, it’s expected that our nation will experience a critical shortage of around 800,000 nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of hospice nurses and other registered nurses will skyrocket by 19% before 2022. Hospice nurses with at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing and related work experience will have the best prospects. Since more than two-thirds of hospice care is now provided in patients’ homes, most hospice nurses will find employment in home health services. That being said, employment will be strong in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living centers, and hospice centers too.

Overall, hospice nursing is an in-demand specialty area involved in delivering comprehensive care to patients who are terminally ill and dying. Hospice nurses interact daily with AIDs, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other fatal conditions. Though hospice nursing is often considered one of the most difficult registered nursing jobs, special nurses in this calling receive the rewarding benefit of improving the well-being, mind set, and comfort of patients at the end of their life.

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