What Is A Hospice Nurse?

What is a hospice nurse?The Hospice Foundation of America defines Hospice in the following way: “Hospice offers medical care toward a different goal: maintaining or improving quality of life for someone whose illness, disease or condition is unlikely to be cured.” They further note that “hospice is something more that is available to the patient and the entire family when curative measures have been exhausted and life prognosis is six months or less”.

What Does a Hospice Nurse Do?

A hospice nurse is an individual that provides comfort to patients, and education for all during the end of life process.  If you've ever had the good fortune to work with a hospice nurse, you know that they are amazing people.  Hospice nurses understand many things about death and dying that most of us want to avoid… Until we can't.

The Baltimore Sun recently published a really interesting article about John O'Malley, a retired government worker who had lost his wife to cancer in 2010.  As difficult as death and dying are, Mr. O'Malley had a wonderful experience working through things with a hospice nurse.  So much so, that 2 months later, he set a course to become one himself.

Five years later, O'Malley is dispensing the same compassionate care to dying patients and their families that he received; easing pains both literal and figurative, transforming death from a dark and frightening experience into a peaceful and sometimes even spiritual one. – Meredith Cohn, Reporter, The Baltimore Sun

There are many people like John O'Malley that go into nursing after experiencing illness of a friend or family member, but it takes a special individual to become a hospice nurse. These fine people have a solid educational foundation, they are compassionate, they can face tough issues head-on, and they can work with families to minimize the stresses that are placed upon them.

List of Hospice Services

The Hospice Foundation of America lists some typical services that are covered when someone enters hospice care. Here are some of the most common:

  • Time and services of the care team, including visits to the patient’s location by the hospice physician, nurse, medical social worker, home-health aide and chaplain/spiritual adviser
  • Medication for symptom control or pain relief
  • Medical equipment like wheelchairs or walkers and medical supplies like bandages and catheters
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Speech-language pathology services
  • Dietary counseling
  • Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage pain and other symptoms related to the terminal illness, as recommended by the hospice team
  • Short-term inpatient care (e.g. when adequate pain and symptom management cannot be achieved in the home setting)
  • Short-term respite care (e.g. temporary relief from caregiving to avoid or address “caregiver burnout”)
  • Grief and loss counseling for patient and loved ones

If you have personal experiences working with a hospice provider, or if you are a hospice provider we'd love to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences below in the comments section. 

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  1. I did not realize that hospice care could provide for speech-language pathology services. My dad has been having some trouble expressing what he wants to say as he gets older, so perhaps working with a hospice nurse would be something to look into. Getting the best care for my dad as he gets older is what I want for him, and I think that hospice care sounds like an option that both my dad and I would benefit from.
  2. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing it.
  3. I couldn’t agree more that hospice providers are the salt of the earth. They provide such needed care and comfort at such a sensitive time for their patients. Hospice nurses do NOT have an easy job; but they do it because they are truly caring souls who want nothing more than to help others. Our hospice team can be found at
  4. Hospice nurses are responsible for so much medical information and beyond. They provide invaluable care to end-stage patients who need the love and attention that only a great nurse can give.
  5. Oh my goodness, yes! A good hospice nurse can make a huge difference in so many peoples’ lives. Nurses in general are godsends, but hospice nurses in particular have a special place in my heart.
  6. I have been curious about what kind of nurse to get my grandmother. It sounds like it would be the best idea to be able to get a hospice nurse. I would really like to be able to get a qualified nurse.
  7. I don’t think that a lot of people understand the things to expect when they enter hospice care. As a result, there are a lot of things that can go wrong due to false expectations. I’m happy that you touched on the things that you should expect. Do you have any pieces of advice when it comes to finding the right kind of hospice for your loved one?
    1. Yes we do Johnny. It’s important for people to educate themselves before a crisis hits. There are a lot of resources out there (both online and in local communities). We have more articles on Hospice and/or Palliative Care – just enter that keyword in our search bar on the homepage.

  8. It’s good to know that a hospice service will offer dietary counseling. When the person receiving treatment is not being cared for by the hospital, it’s hard to know what they should and should not eat so getting that help would make a difference. Talking to a hospice nurse about what to do if they avoid eating certain foods would also be helpful.
  9. Hospice is a nice thing. It helps people with terminal illnesses feel better throughout the duration. I did into know that they helped with dietary needs as well.
  10. I completely agree that hospice nurses are amazing people. Before my grandpa died, he got really close to his nurse who was very attentive to him. She made sure that he received the best care possible, was made comfortable and that he felt the least amount of pain possible. However, what I thought that was so amazing about her was that when he died, she was there for us. She was the one who told us that he had passed away, she hugged us and consoled us and she even went to his funeral. She was and is a truly remarkable person and I definitely respect those who have the same job as she does.
  11. This is some really good information about what a hospice nurse will do. I didn’t realize that they can help with so many things. For example, I like that you talked about they can help with occupational and physical therapy. Do you know if they bring their own equipment they will need?
  12. I have been nursing for almost 36 years and have worked in many departments I enjoyed all of them very much. Now I am a hospice nurse, have been for over ten years. If I can help make the last chapter of someone’s life the best it can be for them and their loved ones then I have done my job. I tell people that hospice nursing “Fills my heart and feeds my soul”. That is not an exaggeration!
    1. I’m so happy to hear from you Michelle! As far as I’m concerned hospice nurses are angels. Thank you for the incredible work that you do. – Best, Amie

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