Nurse comforting a sick patient

How to Become a Palliative Care Nurse

Explore Compassionate Care and the Vital World of Palliative Nursing.

Nurse comforting a sick patient

Palliative Care Nurses fill a challenging but very rewarding role in healthcare. They provide comfort, support, and care to critically ill patients or those near the end of their life. One of their primary responsibilities is to relieve pain. These Registered Nurses can also help patients create care plans or end-of-life decisions. As you can see, Palliative Care Nurses make a vital contribution to the healthcare landscape.

They work closely with patients and families to provide emotional support and help patients navigate complex medical systems. This can include medication management, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based interventions to improve mental health outcomes—all of which focus on improving quality of life and reducing pain and suffering.

This blog post covers the duties, skills, and educational requirements for becoming a Palliative Care Nurse. We’ll also go over salary information and the job outlook. Learn how to become a Registered Nurse and explore the best hospital nursing jobs to see if this career path is right for you.

Palliative Care Nurse: Definition

What is a Palliative Care Nurse?

Nurses in palliative care may provide their patients with short or long-term services. They often tend to patients who are terminally ill, providing comfort and supporting families. In this role, there is an element of bereavement care. Just like NICU nurses, Palliative Care Nurses care for some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Palliative Care Nurse vs. Hospice Nurse

While both areas revolve around quality of life, they focus on different stages in the process. According to CaringInfo, “Palliative care focuses on maintaining the highest quality of life while managing treatment and other needs. Hospice care specifically focuses on the period closest to death.”

Think of it like this: Hospice care comes after palliative care. They are linked but distinct phases in patient care.

Palliative Care Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Palliative Care Nurse Do?

The key responsibilities of a Palliative Care Nurse include alleviating physical symptoms, providing pain management, administering medication, offering emotional support, and advising families on patient conditions. If you think about it, Palliative Care Nurses assist patients across their lifespan. They may have conditions such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.

Lastly, patient education is a critical component of palliative care nursing. By providing education and support to patients and families, palliative care nurses can 1) empower them to make informed decisions by providing them with accurate and up-to-date information about their illness and treatment options, 2) improve communication between patients, families, and healthcare providers by providing education about the illness and treatment options, 3) reduce anxiety and fear by providing education about what to expect as the illness progresses, and 4) support self-management, which can help patients to feel more in control of their symptoms and better able to cope with the challenges of their illness.

Palliative Care Nurse: Duties and Responsibilities

Palliative Care Nurses work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals such as physicians, social workers, chaplains, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement care plans that address patients’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. They also communicate regularly with other members of the healthcare team to ensure that patients receive the support they need.

Although no two days are alike, Palliative Care Nurses typically perform the following duties:

  • Conducting patient assessments to identify physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
  • Developing and implementing individualized care plans in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team.
  • Administer medications and treatments as prescribed, and monitor for side effects.
  • Providing education and support to patients and families about the illness, treatment options, and self-management strategies.
  • Documenting patient care and progress in electronic medical records.
  • Communicating and coordinating care with healthcare providers and family members to ensure continuity of care.
  • Providing emotional support, counseling, and advocacy to patients and families.
  • Managing symptoms, such as pain, nausea, and anxiety, through medications, relaxation techniques, and other interventions.
  • Supporting patients and families during end-of-life care, including facilitating advance care planning and providing emotional support.

Close up of a healthcare professional holding the hand of an elderly person

Palliative Care Nurse: Skills

Palliative Care Nursing is a challenging but rewarding career that requires a unique set of skills and qualities. Here are some of the essential skills and qualities that are needed for success in this field:

Compassion and Empathy: Palliative Care Nurses must be compassionate and empathetic towards patients and families who are dealing with serious illnesses and end-of-life care. They must be able to connect with patients and provide emotional support during difficult times.

Communication Skills: Palliative Care Nurses must be skilled communicators who can explain complex medical information in a way that patients and families can understand. They must also be able to communicate effectively with other members of the interdisciplinary team.

Flexibility and Adaptability: Palliative Care Nurses must be flexible and adaptable, as patient needs and situations can change rapidly. They must be able to adjust care plans and interventions as needed.

Knowledge and Experience: Palliative Care Nurses must have a strong knowledge base in areas such as pain management, symptom management, end-of-life care, and ethics. They must also stay up to date with the latest research and best practices in palliative care.

Critical Thinking: Palliative Care Nurses must be able to think critically and make informed decisions in complex situations. They must be able to identify and prioritize patient needs, develop and implement effective care plans, perform symptom management, and collaborate and communicate with interdisciplinary teams effectively.

Palliative Care Nurse: Work Environment

Where Do Palliative Care Nurses Work?

Palliative Care Nurses can find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, assisted living facilities, and outpatient settings (i.e., home care). They also work in mental health clinics or correctional facilities. Some Palliative Care Nurses even work in veterans’ homes.

There are various potential career opportunities for Palliative Care Nurses, such as roles in palliative care teams, oncology units, and community health organizations. In addition, Palliative Care Nurses can apply their skills and expertise to a range of roles, from leadership positions like a palliative care program director or policy advocate to being a palliative care researcher, educator, and consultant. As the demand for palliative care continues to grow, the need for skilled and dedicated palliative care nurses will only continue to increase.

Palliative Care Nurse Education & Certification

How to Become a Palliative Care Nurse

By now, you know the drill—aspiring nurses must complete an accredited program and pass the NCLEX licensure exam. When it comes to accredited programs, you could pursue an Associate Degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

For this specialization, you should also acquire at least two years of clinical experience in a critical or acute-care setting (i.e., an intensive care unit or a hospital emergency room). To provide the best care possible and be the ideal candidate, pursue certification in palliative care with entities like the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center.

Some of these certifications include Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN®), Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN®), and Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse (CHPPN®).

Ongoing Education and Maintenance

Continuing education can include attending conferences, completing online courses, and participating in mentorship programs. Certification maintenance typically involves completing a certain number of continuing education hours and renewing the certification on a regular basis. Ongoing education and certification maintenance ensures that palliative care professionals are up to date on the latest developments in the field.

Palliative Care Nurse Salary

How Much Do Palliative Care Nurses Make?

Although the BLS doesn’t report salary data specifically for Palliative Care Nurses, we can reference data for Registered Nurses (RNs) to provide a general understanding of the average salaries. In 2023, the average annual wage for Registered Nurses was approximately $94,000 per year.

Salaries for Palliative Care Nurses can vary significantly based on the employer, experience, and location. Areas with a higher cost of living or in-demand healthcare facilities may offer higher pay to attract nurses. Experience also plays a crucial role in determining a Palliative Care Nurse’s pay.

Group of healthcare professionals with a terminally ill patient

Palliative Care Nurse: Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for Palliative Care Nurses?

Although the BLS doesn’t report job outlook data for Palliative Care Nurses, we can refer to the projected job growth for Registered Nurses (RNs) to provide insights into the growing demand for Palliative Care Nurses. The BLS anticipates a 6% growth in employment for RNs from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

In terms of career advancement opportunities, Palliative Care Nurses may choose to pursue advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which can lead to roles in management, administration, education, or research. They may also choose to obtain certifications in specialized areas of palliative care, such as pain management or hospice care. These advanced qualifications can increase their chances of career advancement and higher salaries.

Your Journey into Nursing Starts Here

In this article, we have discussed the career path of becoming a Palliative Care Nurse, including their primary duties and responsibilities, the necessary education and certification requirements, potential career opportunities, and the job outlook for this profession. One important aspect highlighted in this article is the role Palliative Care Nurses play in promoting mental health and wellness for not only patients but the families of patients who are suffering from serious illnesses or challenges with end-of-life care.

Overall, Palliative Care Nursing is a unique blend of physical, psychosocial, and spiritual care that offers no small measure of personal and professional gratification. This growing field offers a deeply rewarding and fulfilling career path that makes an undeniable impact on the lives of patients and their families.

Interested in nursing education? Unitek College offers tailored programs to help you transition into the healthcare field and become a nurse in a shorter duration. Start by checking out the LVN to BSN Advanced Placement Option for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Our programs and pathways are designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed for a successful nursing career.

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