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How Do I Become a Palliative Care Specialist?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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To become a palliative care specialist, you will typically need to first complete the standard requirements for professional licensure in a health care profession. After that, you may need to gain some experience actually working in your field before you can begin additional training in offering palliative care. The type of training you will need to undergo in order to become a palliative care specialist will vary by profession and perhaps even the jurisdiction where you work. Prior to receiving your training, you may also want to perform volunteer work in a hospice or with seriously ill patients in order to gain some experience in this area of medicine and to decide whether palliative care is for you.

People often decide to become a palliative care specialist out of a desire to alleviate suffering in seriously ill or dying patients. These specialists focus on pain management and helping patients and their families understand their options within the medical system. In some cases, palliative care is a part of hospice care, but not all patients who receive palliative care are necessarily dying or are even expected to die. They are, however, often very ill and may be in significant pain. In some cases, their medical options are extremely limited, and there may be little hope of recovery, which can make it difficult to make appropriate decisions about future treatment and care.

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As you begin your health care career, you should pay attention to the licensing requirements in the jurisdiction where you hope to work. For example, in the United States physicians typically complete four years of medical school after they earn their bachelor's degree and then begin a residency in a medical specialty. After completing their residency, they may choose to obtain additional training in a sub-specialty of medicine, including palliative care. Those physicians who are already specializing in an area of medicine may choose to embark on additional training as well.

Registered nurses also have the option to become a palliative care specialist. In the United States, this is typically accomplished by becoming an advanced practice nurse with a sub-specialty in palliative care. To become an advance practice nurse, a person must usually have a bachelor's degree in nursing in addition to a graduate degree and specific training leading to licensure as an advanced practice nurse. In other countries, however, the educational requirements to become a palliative care specialist as a nurse may differ significantly from the United States model.

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