A palliative care nurse is a health care professional who provides treatment and counsel to patients who are dying of incurable illnesses. Nurses work with physicians and other medical professionals to diagnose, treat, and care for individuals with progressive terminal conditions. They help patients and their family members cope with very difficult circumstances by providing information, counseling, and support. An experienced palliative care nurse may also conduct research about terminal diseases and advanced care practices, develop new policies regarding patient care, advocate public awareness, and teach nursing courses at hospitals and colleges.
Patients who are diagnosed with incurable diseases often struggle to find the strength and hope to enjoy their last moments. It is the duty of a palliative care nurse to ensure that such patients receive the best possible treatments to relieve their pain and symptoms. Professionals often become close companions with their patients, providing counsel, empathy, and friendship when they need it the most. The nature of the job can be very physically and emotionally demanding, and nurses must be capable of dealing with loss and tragedy on a regular basis.
Besides administering direct care to patients, palliative care nurses frequently meet with friends and family members to help them cope with the situation and discuss the options for end-of-life treatment. Many nurses engage in research to develop new public policies and determine the best methods for administering palliative care. Professionals often take part in hospital or community discussions to present their findings and suggest ways to improve procedures.
A prospective palliative care nurse is usually required to complete a four-year bachelor's degree program in nursing as well as a two-year master's program to gain nurse practitioner credentials. Most new nurses intern for at least one year in an emergency room or hospital setting to gain practical experience and prepare for their eventual careers in palliative care. Individuals are usually required to pass extensive written examinations administered by a nationally recognized organization to become certified palliative care nurses. In the United States, certification is available through the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA). Most other countries rely on organizations similar to the HPNA to ensure that individuals are sufficiently prepared for the job.
Most palliative care nurses work about 40 hours a week, though their schedules are rarely regular. The times and days a palliative care nurse works depends on the condition of his or her patients. A nurse may be required to work weekend, overnight, or double shifts when a patient nears the end of life in order to provide constant care. Many nurses continue to meet with family members after the passing of a loved one in order to provide encouragement and emotional support.