What is Hospice Nursing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hospice nursing is a nursing subfield which focuses on end of life care for patients and their families. The primary purpose of hospice nursing is to keep patients comfortable in their last days, and to provide family members with information about the patient's condition. This particular branch of nursing can be extremely stressful, as hospice nurses work primarily with dying patients, but many people employed in hospice nursing say that their field is also very personally rewarding.

Hospice nurses are tasked with taking care of people in their final days.
Hospice nurses are tasked with taking care of people in their final days.

Hospice care can be provided in a variety of settings, and hospice nurses are often the leaders of the medical teams tasked with caring for dying patients. Some hospice nurses work in private homes, allowing people to spend their last days in a familiar environment surrounded by family members. Others work in hospitals, hospice facilities, and residential care facilities, caring for patients who need a more institutionalized environment, and for people who feel more comfortable in a hospice facility than a hospital.

A hospice nurse may administer medications through IVs.
A hospice nurse may administer medications through IVs.

The practice of hospice nursing involves managing pain and other symptoms associated with terminal illness and catastrophic injuries. Hospice nurses provide pain medications, check their patients for bed sores, infections, and other problems which commonly arise when people spend a great deal of time in bed, and supply their patients with emotional support, nutrition, and other forms of respectful care.

Hospice nurses are very involved with the patients and their families.
Hospice nurses are very involved with the patients and their families.

In addition to caring for patients, many hospice nurses also work with family members. A career in hospice nursing makes someone very familiar with the stages and processes of death. Hospice nurses guide family members through the process, telling them what to expect and helping them cope with the emotional strain of a death, and they are also prepared to summon family members when a loved one's time is near, ensuring that they are able to be present in the patient's last moments. Some hospice nurses also help family members prepare the body after death, and they may participate in grief counseling and other outreach programs to help people deal with the experience of death.

People who work in hospice nursing are sometimes accused of helping patients to die. Many hospice nurses greatly resent this, because their focus is on palliative care and keeping patients comfortable, not killing patients. A hospice nurse would like nothing more than to see a full and miraculous recovery of a hospice patient. Patients may choose to refuse food and water or to take an active role in directing their own deaths, but hospice nurses do not help patients to die, not least because this practice is illegal in many regions of the world.

Doctors and nurses are essential to a patient's hospice care plan.
Doctors and nurses are essential to a patient's hospice care plan.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


One of my friends had a granddaughter who was born without some of her internal organs. This was so sad because to look at her, she looked like a perfectly formed, beautiful baby.

She lived for a few weeks and went straight from the hospital to a hospice house. Even though they weren't in their own home, it was nice for them to be in a home-like atmosphere.

I found the nurses to be very assuring, helpful and compassionate. I really don't know how they do it day after day.

They were able to know when it was getting close to her passing, and they were right on track with this. I guess they see this every day and can read the signs very well.


When my mother-in-law was dying from cancer, she had a hospice nurse who came to her home for several months.

Once she got to the point where she could no longer stay in her home, she went to a hospice nursing home.

Any hospice home I have ever been in has been a calm, peaceful place. I am sure the attitudes of the staff and nurses really makes a difference.

At this point, their main concern is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible and pain free.


One of my good friends worked as a nurse on the hospital oncology floor for many years before she became a hospice nurse.

Because she was used to working with patients who were fighting cancer or near death, her hospice nursing training was a natural transition for her.

I believe it takes special people to work in this area and not let it get them down. She has her days when it gets to her, but she just keeps focusing on giving her patients the best care possible.


My sister-in-law's young daughter had cancer when she was only four years old, and she had a hospice nurse come stay with her at home during her last days. It was so hard for my sister-in-law to watch her daughter slowly wilt away to nothing, and having the hospice nurse there helped so much.

The nurse could provide care that the mother did not have the qualifications to give. She also was there for her to talk to about the situation. She told her what to expect in each stage, and I think that being prepared for it made it just a little less shocking when it happened.

The hospice nurse was like an angel on earth for my sister-in-law. She did not have a husband at the time, and the nurse was her only comfort. This just goes to show how valuable a nurse in this position can be.


@shell4life – My sister is a hospice nurse, and I believe the only thing that keeps her focused and positive is her belief in God and the afterlife. She sees death as a release from pain and suffering and an entrance into a better world.

Even if her patients don't believe in this, she tells them about her faith. She doesn't try to convert them or put any pressure on them, but she does offer up suggestions that seem to give them comfort. Many of them appreciate the thought of a better place when they are so near death.

Her job does get her down sometimes, but she tries to always focus on the big picture. She believes this life is temporary, so death is only sad for the people who love the one departing this life.


It must certainly take a special person to be a hospice nurse. Being around all that imminent death all the time would drive most people into deep depression.

A hospice nurse would have to be able to rise above it all and not only keep her sanity but also offer encouragement and comfort to those around the patient. Personally, I could not handle this as a career. I don't do well around death and mourning, so I wouldn't even try.

How do hospice nurses keep their mindsets positive? How is it possible for them to keep their environment from dragging them down?


I can't imagine ever refusing food and water. This would mean a slow death, and how hard it would have to be for a hospice nurse to stand by and do nothing about it!

The nurse would know that the patient was already dying, but to be unable to give them what they need to prolong their lives because they actually wanted to die would be difficult. I suppose that if the nurse put food and water on the table in front of them and they refused to take it, then she would at least feel better knowing that she had offered it to them.

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