Hospice Nurse: ‘I Can’t Imagine Doing Anything Else’
“Everyone should be able to have someone with them when they die.”
Jessica spent years working in ERs and long-term care facilities before moving into hospice nursing at VITAS in 2018.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d like it,” she admits. “But now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. To be able to go in and take a really bad, life-changing situation and make it as smooth as possible is a whole other level of health care and emotional support.”
A Different Approach to Care
Still, the shift to comfort care, rather than curative care, was an adjustment for Jessica.
“We're making people comfortable and helping them through that adjustment of losing their loved one,” she says. “It was a good three to four months of reminding myself of that.”
I have never worked for people who have had my back the way my team does. There is constant support.
Remembering her own adjustment period gives her the compassion to be exceedingly patient with families and patients as she educates them about hospice. “Our families don't have months to flip how they think about hospice care for their loved one.”
Providing that education is something Jessica—who once wanted to be a teacher—is passionate about.
“The education starts as soon as I walk through the door,” she says. “We usually start by explaining how we’re managing pain and providing comfort.”
That can make all the difference in the patient’s experience. She also makes sure her patients understand that they can always change their minds and leave hospice to pursue another treatment option.
“I don’t want them wondering,” she says. “They can leave and come back and have their same nurses and team.”
Educating healthcare providers is another important component of the process. “I think some doctors are very open to hospice,” she says. “But others have a very hard time letting go or accepting the fact that they can't fix what's happening.”
Caring, Compassionate Connections
Throughout her time at VITAS, Jessica has forged meaningful connections with her patients and their families. While that can make it harder to say goodbye, that compassion helps Jessica excel at her job.
“Sometimes, when you have a patient die, it's almost like a little piece of your soul is missing because you really do love these people, and you really do develop these connections,” she says. “You can't go and see someone twice a week for a year and not have something missing from your life when they're gone.”
The support Jessica receives from the other members of the interdisciplinary team—particularly the chaplains—is critical to her own well-being.
We meet (patients) where they're at, whatever that may be.
“I could not do what I do—emotionally, physically, mentally—without the team I work with,” Jessica says. “I have never worked for people who have had my back the way my team does. There is constant support.”
“We're very diverse. It gives a great perspective and a great understanding into a lot of different lifestyles, religions, the way we care for our patients, and the way we care for each other. I don't have enough nice things to say about my team.”
Making a Difference
In the end, Jessica has found purpose by showing up every day for her patients.
“One of the things I'm most proud of is the fact that the support that we give to patients,” Jessica says. “We meet them where they're at, whatever that may be. We provide them with that comfort and that reassurance that they're not alone, and they're not going to have to go through this alone.”