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The Critical Role of Nurses in End of Life Care

Nurses are firmly positioned at the front lines of the healthcare industry, providing skilled care, compassion and comfort for patients and families. In honor of National Nurses Week (May 6 through 12), we take a moment to recognize the important roles nurses play in end of life care. If you have a loved one currently in hospice, you know how critical nurses can be to the whole process. They are the communicators, the liaisons, the connections you have between your family and the hospice care team in Santa Clara.

National Nurses Week takes place every year on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, featuring many events across the country to honor nurses for the in-the-trenches work they do each and every day to ensure patients and their families are informed and comfortable. All nurses are special, but it takes an extra special person to be a hospice nurse. It’s a grueling, oftentimes sad and many times enlightening job that positions nurses as end of life caregivers for many with terminal disease or old age.

Roles Nurses Play

Within the hospice care setting, the looming reality of a patient’s death can be extremely hard for both patients and family members to accept. This is the time when many difficult decisions must be made regarding treatments that will benefit the patient in their last weeks or months, often bringing quality of life concerns into play. Nurses step in at this time to provide guidance for patients and families confronting those tough decisions and helping them adapt to painful realities, says the American Nurses Association.

Nurses are often times a sole source of support at this delicate time. Families are often confused, scared and overwhelmed at this juncture. They are receiving the facts from doctors about medications, treatments and timelines, but often look to nurses to lean on for emotional support once the doctor has left the room. Therefore, nurses are there to help the patient and family as they struggle to adjust to the reality they’re facing. The nurse’s primary responsibility is to the patient and making sure their wishes are honored. These wishes aren’t always in accordance with the family’s wishes. That’s where the role of hospice nurse gets tricky. They must maintain a focus on the patient’s preferences and respecting their autonomy while at the same time supporting the family as they navigate a process they’ve likely never been through before.

Nurses must be skilled in pain management to ensure their patients remain as comfortable as possible. In addition to disease management, they must also attend to the psychological, interpersonal and spiritual needs of the patient as well. No other professional within the hospice care setting wears quite so many hats as the hospice nurse!

Duties of a Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses focus solely on end-of-life care, providing hands-on nursing care around the clock — either in a facility or in the patient’s home. Not only do they manage pain and other symptoms, they assist in the process of death with dignity, points out the Houston Chronicle. Because each patient and family both have a unique perspective concerning end-of-life needs, it becomes the job of the hospice nurse to make cultural assessments and adjust care accordingly.

Hospice nurses do many things during the course of a day, such as:

  • Provide respite care for family members who need a break.
  • Order appropriate medical supplies needed by the patient.
  • Perform patient assessments.
  • Create a plan of care for all caregivers to follow.
  • Provide sensitive care and emotional support.
  • Provide crisis care that alleviates symptoms to result in comfort maintenance.
  • Act as mediator between the family and patient, and the rest of the hospice care team.
  • Arrange spiritual support services from chaplains, ministers and priests.
  • Prescribe medications or treatments, and supervise or manage medical care — in the case of nurse practitioners.
  • Be an advocate for patients.

The duties of a hospice nurse that you don’t see in brochures or in lists of services on websites is the other side of care, the softer side. The side that involves sometimes simply doing nothing at all. When all other tasks are done — blood pressure taken, sponge bath given, meds administered — nurses often sit by their patients’ side, hold their hand, rub their arms, look them in the eye, share stories about growing up, and generally just be there for them. That’s the side of hospice nurses that makes them special.

The dying process is often long and bewildering, lonely and painful, often times undignified, and fraught with the unknown. Hospice nurses jump into the fray to provide that meaningful connection and ease the transition from life to death.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If you have questions about our services or what hospice care is, visit our FAQs page. To contact us here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice, call 888-755-7855. Meanwhile, browse our many hospice resources and articles to learn more about what hospice is and how we ease this transition.