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Questions about Working for Hospice

VITAS Hospice Care Career Questions

More and more individuals are experiencing the tremendous benefits that a hospice provider can offer when a loved one is facing death. And a growing number of medical professionals are experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of providing high-quality end-of-life care.

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For many healthcare workers, the hospice field is a new experience. They may, however, have heard many of the common myths about hospice care and working with the terminally ill—and that generates a host of interesting questions for prospective hospice workers. 

Click on the questions below to get answers about common hospice employment concerns.

Q: Isn’t it depressing to work with terminally ill patients every day?

A: Not at all! In fact, many of our staff find it uplifting to work with patients and families who truly need their assistance. In an age when medicine seems increasingly depersonalized, hospice care is one of the last bastions of hands-on care. VITAS employees get daily reminders that they are in a field where they can make a difference.

The key to good hospice care is that every member of an interdisciplinary team gets to know and understand each patient and his or her loved ones as unique individuals. In addition, the support that is the basis of an effective interdisciplinary team also helps our clinical staff appreciate the rewards of the hospice experience. For many clinicians, hospice work brings them back to the reasons they chose a career in healthcare.

Q: I’m used to working in a hospital. Is it hard to adjust to the self-directed work style of a hospice home care team?

A: Our staff often find that they easily adjust to and actually enjoy an independent schedule—one that is truly focused on the needs of patients and their families.

Wouldn't you like to work in an environment in which one-to-one, hands-on care is part of a typical day? Rather than being an order-filler and a slave to the call button, wouldn’t you like to use all of your diagnostic and assessment skills? These are the advantages of being a part of a hospice home care team.

Q: I don’t have any experience in hospice care. How will I learn about the best ways to become an effective caregiver in this environment?

A: Experience is a powerful teacher. VITAS has more than 25 years of experience in training, educating and mentoring hospice caregivers. We have developed an extensive body of knowledge about providing quality end-of-life care. Our interactive training program relies on self-paced learning, peer support and mentoring to further the skills and proficiency of our clinical staff.

Q: Won’t advances in medicine eventually put hospices out of business?

A: On the contrary, hospice is one of the fastest-growing components of healthcare today. The average hospice patient certainly is older today than 25 years ago. But this is because America is aging. The 85 and older cohort is one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the United States, and this population will have an increasing need for hospice care.

Q: How does someone become a hospice patient?

A: Hospice care typically is initiated after a formal request for “referral” is made by a patient’s doctor. This generally occurs when the patient’s stage of illness makes palliative care the preferred choice for treatment. To be admitted for hospice care, a patient must have a life expectancy of six months or less if the disease runs its normal course.

At VITAS, an admissions nurse visits with patients and their families to describe our services and our team approach to care. This discussion usually addresses the patient’s advance directives and end-of-life care options and preferences.

After signing the required consent forms, the patient is admitted. He or she is then assessed further to develop an appropriate, individualized plan for care based on medical and psychosocial needs. With that plan in place, the patient is introduced to the relevant team members. 

Q: What do you do for the patient’s family after he or she dies?

A: Hospice care is unique in that all Medicare-certified providers are required to offer bereavement services to a patient’s loved ones for a year or more after the patient dies. At VITAS, bereavement care is actually written into each patient’s plan of care, and should begin with support for the family even before the patient’s death. This is an important benefit not available to terminally ill patients who reach the end of life in the harsh environment of a hospital intensive care unit.

How successful is our bereavement care? Many of our most remarkable hospice volunteers have joined us to “give back” after they experienced hospice bereavement care following the death of their loved ones. In many cases and in many ways, the relationship with our hospice teams continues.

Q: Isn’t it difficult to “let go” of patients and families after you get to know them?

A: Our staff finds comfort by participating in memorial services and providing bereavement support for the families of patients they have served. They also reflect on the memories they share with each other of the meaningful gift they gave to these special patients at the end of their lives.