Is a Career in Hospice Nursing Right for You?
September 12, 2014
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Nursing offers many types of specialties, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a hospice nurse? If so, take the following special considerations into account when deciding whether a career in hospice nursing is the right path for you.
What Does a Hospice Nurse Do?
Hospice nursing focuses on palliative care, or comfort care, for patients with a life-threatening diagnosis and a prognosis of six months or less to live. Unlike most areas of nursing, the focus in not on healing the physical body, but on providing physical comfort. You must stay up to date on the latest innovations in pain management, including unconventional uses of medications to treat symptoms (such as the use of anticonvulsant medications to treat nerve pain). You will also become an expert in the titration of pain medications to comfort patients without sedating them. In addition, you must be skilled at teaching patients and family members about medications so they can overcome their fears about narcotics and addiction.
The Power of Words
As you can imagine, this is a very frightening and emotionally charged time not only for the patients, but for their families as well. While all areas of nursing entail some degree of psychosocial support for patients, in hospice, you may find yourself spending more time meeting emotional and even spiritual needs than physical ones. The grieving process provokes a wide variety of responses, from despair to extreme anger, so you'll need to be able to diffuse those situations if you choose a career in hospice nursing. You will also need a thick skin and the ability to recognize that the angry responses you may sometimes receive aren't directed at you personally. You may even find yourself in the middle of arguments between family members, so you'll need to be the diplomat who brings peace during this time of turmoil.
Don't be surprised if hospice patients facing death ask you about your own spiritual beliefs rather than request a chaplain. They may even ask you to pray with them. While nurses normally avoid discussing religion with patients, this is a gray area in hospice nursing, so it's a good idea to think about how comfortable you are with responding to questions about your personal beliefs.
Healer, Heal Thyself
There is a saying hospice nurses often use with caregivers who are destroying their own health while taking care of their loved one: You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family member. You'll need to be able to take your own advice on this one if you want to be a hospice nurse. It's very important to make time to relieve the stress of this emotionally intensive caregiving or you'll be in danger of "compassion fatigue," which is commonly referred to as burnout. Maintaining an active and satisfying personal life is critical when it comes to recharging your own batteries.
Hospice nurses are often asked how they can do such depressing work, and there is no denying that it takes a special kind of person to handle this emotionally intense specialty. But it can offer tremendous rewards as well: Not only are you assisting patients and their loved ones with a pain-free death, you can also use this work to gain a different perspective on your own life. Caring for those with a life-threatening illness can help you understand how small your own problems are in comparison, and that perspective can bring a much deeper joy to your own life.
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