What Makes a Hospice Nurse Great?
Spending Time with Patients
It takes a special person to be a nurse. It takes years of exacting education, long hours of on-the-job training, and a stint of difficult work schedules before a novice is considered a top-notch professional nurse. Nurses need to have a compassionate bedside manner and know how to work with busy and demanding physicians. They need clerical skills, stamina, strength and patience.
Those who are called to hospice nursing require so much more.
Hospice nurses are born when they realize, often years into their nursing career, that they do more paper pushing than patient care. They recall why they went into the profession in the first place and realize they are no longer meeting their own professional goals. They may know a hospice nurse or see one in the course of their day. “I want what he has,” they find themselves thinking.
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Hospice nurses are dedicated to specific patients and charged with spending time with those patients, often in their own homes, getting to know them as people, understanding not just their symptoms but their hopes, their pasts, their families.
Part of a Team
They are their patients’ advocates. After they’ve checked vital signs and adjusted meds, hospice nurses ask their patients, “What is it you’re worried about?” or “What else can I do for you today?” They are not seeking a cure for the patient’s disease; they are seeking comfort, dignity and acceptance for their patient. It is a different kind of caring, a different kind of nursing, and it takes a different kind of nurse to do it well.
Hospice nurses are part of a team that is led by the patient, who, with family or loved ones, is encouraged to set the pace and the tone of the team’s plan of care. The hospice nurse is thorough, calling in the chaplain for a visit or suggesting that a volunteer assist in getting the patient out, conferring with the physician on changes in symptoms or medications and discussing day-to-day issues with the hospice aide.
Remarkably, hospice nurses are joyful in the face of death. They see it as a journey that they join at its very special end. They are confident and calm when others are frightened, and they are capable of sadness and humility when death has taken the patient and they stand in quiet understanding with those who grieve their patient.