According to Medicare regulations, hospice care is for patients who are believed to be in the last six months of their lives. The goal of hospice nursing is to make the dying process as comfortable and painless for the patient as possible. It usually takes about five years to become a hospice nurse and six years to become a certified hospice nurse.
On the Job
Hospice nurses provide comprehensive palliative medical care, or care designed to reduce pain and suffering for people who are dying. They care for patients in their own homes or in a hospice center, and they work closely with the same patient or patients throughout the dying process. Pharmaceutical knowledge is especially important. Hospice nurses care for the emotional well-being of the patient and his family by providing support and comfort, listening, problem-solving and working with other members of the team, such as home health aides, social workers and clergy.
Hospice nurses need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, which usually takes four years to complete. Coursework includes liberal arts classes and nursing major requirements. Liberal arts classes typically include literature, history, sociology, writing, math, life science and chemistry. The nursing major coursework includes more intensive science classes like microbiology, organic chemistry and physiology, as well as nursing-specific classes such as foundations of nursing, pharmacology and health. Students also learn about various branches of nursing, including pediatrics, maternity, medical-surgical and critical care. After graduation, they need to pass the national licensing examination.
After earning the BSN and passing the national examination, a person is a qualified registered nurse. The next step toward becoming a certified hospice nurse is to get experience working in critical care. Hospices usually require one year experience in critical care prior to beginning to work in a hospice. Nurses need at least two years of experience working in end-of-life care before attempting to get certified. According to the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses, "Examination content is based on the competencies normally achieved through two years of practice in end-of-life care. Individuals who have less experience than that may have difficulty demonstrating a level of knowledge sufficient to pass the examination."
The NBCHPN offers certification for hospice nurses. While not all nurses who work in a hospice have this certification, earning this certification provides the opportunity to demonstrate expertise in the field. Computer-based examinations are administered at approved test sites. The certification must be renewed every four years. The examinations are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification.