November is hospice month, a month recognizing the multidisciplinary team that care for the dying and the families of the dying day in and day out. According to a 2013 CDC statistic, hospice nurses cared for 1,3 million patients and families in the U.S. Hospice offers a patient choices and support when facing imminent death. A hospice nurse’s work spans far beyond physiological assessment and pain control. It also involves guiding their patient and family emotionally and spiritually as they greet death.
While the idea of offering support to the dying has a long history dating as far back as the 11th century in Europe, modern hospice began evolving in England in the 1940’s. A physician by the name of Dame Cicely Saunders created the first hospice in a suburb of London. Her philosophy of hospice revolved not only around the care of the dying through pain and symptom management, but through spiritual and psychosocial support as well. She introduced this philosophy to the U.S. in the 1960’s and since hospice has become an important part of American society.
In this month’s coffee talk, I chatted with Patty, a veteran nurse who supports the dying and their families. After working for years with newborns and new mothers, Patty decided to transition to hospice nursing. In the following interview, she gives us a little insight into life as a hospice nurse.
What drew you to hospice?
Many of my maternity coworkers had transferred over the years and encouraged me to try it. I am truly blessed. I have helped newborns to survive and helped adults to die under their terms and with dignity for the last 26 years here in Florida.
Describe a day on the job as a hospice nurse
Symptom management is continuous throughout the shift and the most important, but education of patients and families is also a large part of my work. Spirituality is equally important. Every day I meet fascinating people at work. I have cared for inventors, rich and very poor, heroes and veterans, old and very young. They all teach me something new each and every day.
How do you prepare yourself for work?
I pray for strength and guidance from God in my car on the way to work.
Do you ever feel like your work is emotionally challenging?
Every day, but the rewards override the challenges.
How do you separate your work from your personal life?
I thank God in my car for being with me before I leave the parking lot and then I let it go. If my back and my feet are not too bad and I can tolerate it, I try to walk some. A lot of times my walking is in Target or Publix.
How does one become a hospice nurse?
Take a leap of faith and try it. If it is not for you, you can always transfer back to where you were more comfortable.
Does it take a special kind of person to be a hospice nurse?
All kinds of people tell me this, but to me all areas of nursing take a special kind of person. Nursing is a unique profession.
What advice would you give a nurse contemplating hospice?
It is an amazing area of nursing and you should definitely try it once in your career.
Thank you Patty and to all the hospice nurses for supporting us and our loved ones in the most difficult time in our lives. Your compassion, care, and guidance will forever be embedded in our hearts. If you are contemplating hospice nursing, contact your local hospice and shadow a nurse. You never know until you try.