As with any medical profession, there are many different types of nurses — surgical, medical office, emergency department, pediatric — the list goes on and on. Saying that hospice nurses are different might sound cliché. But hospice nurses are different and provide a unique type of care. As we celebrate National Hospice and Palliative Care Month each year in November, this is the perfect time to see some of the ways that set hospice nurses apart from other nurses.

1. Hospice nurses honor the sanctity of end of life.

This is the definition of a hospice nurse. People living with acute illness often come to the realization that trying to fix the unfixable may result in exhausting, painful attempts to recover. The patients and families we care for have made the decision to no longer seek curative treatment for their illness and that means a shift in the type of care they need. Hospice nurses help with that shift by focusing on comfort, peace and quality of life. We do that by listening to the patients’ wants and needs. We work directly with the patients to determine their goals of care and to help them share those goals with their loved ones and those providing their care.

2. Hospice nurses lead a team.

Many nurses work with a team. Hospice nurses lead our teams. There are very few disciplines where nurses play such a critical role. The origin story of many a not-for-profit hospice, including the organization I work with, begins with nurses who decided dying patients deserved better. That is not to say that hospice nurses do it all: We work as a team with physicians, social workers, certified nursing assistants, chaplains and volunteers. Our team collaborates to ensure we are caring for the body as well as the mind and spirit. We believe each team member serves an important role for the patient and the family.

3. Hospice nurses educate patients and families to support them as they make their goals of care clear.

The knowledge and experience a person has about death comes from having someone in their life who has died. How can one make important decisions about their end of life without understanding what that looks like? Hospice nurses have joined hundreds of families on the journey and they use that experience to help patients and families consider what their end of life should look like. There’s still a lot of fear of hospice because there’s a misunderstanding of what we do. Hospice professionals have conversations about end-of-life care throughout the community. Advance directives are now more frequently part of a primary care physician’s discussion about goals and medical history.

4. Hospice nurses have the hospice heart.

Part of our job is checking vitals, administering medicine and managing symptoms, but the greatest part of our job is making sure we do the right thing for the patient based on their goals of care. We are honored to be welcomed as part of a sacred family moment. We are often asked if our job is sad. Most hospice nurses say that helping families connect to bring the best possible final days to someone they love is a very touching experience. When you have played a role in helping someone say a final goodbye in their own home surrounded by loved ones and as comfortable as possible, how can that be sad? That is what we call having the hospice heart.

Hospice of the Chesapeake is a not-for-profit organization that is caring for life throughout the journey with illness and loss in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties. Its affiliated programs include Chesapeake Supportive Care and its bereavement services, Chesapeake Life Center. For details, visit or call 410-987-2003.

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.