What is a hospice and palliative nurse (HPN)?

Palliative care refers to compassionate comfort care to provide relief from the symptoms of a serious life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be pursued at diagnosis, during curative treatment and follow-up, and at the end of life. Hospice care is a type of palliative care, which focuses on patients who are suffering from a terminal illness and have six months or less to live. The objective of both hospice and palliative care is to provide relief from the symptoms and the mental and physical stress of serious illnesses and improve the quality of life of the patients.

Nurses who specialize in providing care of such type are known as hospice and palliative nurses.

What do hospice and palliative nurses do?

Hospice and palliative nurses’ primary aim is to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from life-limiting illnesses. They perform regular patient assessments and review medical histories. They monitor vital signs of the patients, talk to the patients to collect information on any changes in the patients’ conditions, check the patients’ living space for safety hazards, and discuss the prognosis with the patients.

Based on the physician’s instructions, they obtain medical supplies, create a plan of care, supervise other nurses and aides, and teach family members and caregivers about medication indications and side effects.

While many hospice and palliative nurses are employed by hospitals, other settings for their work include assisted living homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospice centers, and patients’ homes.

What personal qualities and characteristics make a good hospice and palliative nurse?

Empathy and patience. The patients that hospice and palliative nurses typically care for are elderly and/or frail. These patients might not be able to manage even basic daily activities on their own. Nurses caring for such patients need to assist them with empathy and patience.

Emotional stability. The mortality rate among hospice and palliative care patients is naturally higher than many other categories of patients. Hospice and palliative nurses should be able to deal with losing their patients in a quick and healthy manner.

Communication skills. The stress associated with life-limiting illnesses can be as much mental as it is physical. Hospice and palliative nurses should be able to talk to the patients and help them in overcoming these stresses. These nurses also need to convey the details of the care process to the patients and their loved ones.

Flexibility. Hospice and palliative nurses need to work in conjunction with other interdisciplinary team members. They also have to interact with different types of patients and their family members. This requires them to be flexible in their approach and accommodate the needs of others.