national
Skip to content Skip to Live Chat
Close Nav

Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

Hospice Nurse Career

How to Become a Hospice Nurse

It’s hard to think about who will care for you or your loved ones if you’re terminally ill and want to leave the hospital. But there’s still so much medical care that needs to be offered to patients as they near the end of their lives. This is where hospice nurses come in. The term “hospice nurse” is a broad term that is used to describe the variety of medical professionals that care for patients towards the end of their lives. Commonly the term is used to refer to CHPNs, Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurses or CHPLNs, Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurses. Both of these specialized nurses are responsible for helping care for terminally ill patients as they near the end of their lives. 

A young nurse helps a senior man as they navigate a modern building.

What Is a Hospice Nurse?

Hospice care is often called end-of-life care, and hospice nurses are tasked with keeping patients comfortable, instead of providing treatments that extend their lives. Generally, a hospice nurse is assigned to patients who have six or fewer months left to live. Learn more about the work of hospice RNs and how you can become one. 

What Does a Hospice Nurse Do?

While there are different types of hospice nurses, all hospice nurses are responsible for helping patients in specific ways. Most hospice patients require this kind of help as they are finishing out their life, and it’s vital for all hospice nurses in any role to be qualified and prepared to help them. Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring and documenting patient vital signs. An important part of hospice care is regularly checking on the health of a patient. This may be a daily or multiple-times-a-day requirement. A hospice RN will check vital signs, record any medical concerns or issues a patient has, and understands what all of these symptoms and signs mean for the patient. 
  • Administering medications. Often hospice patients are taking medication, and hospice RNs are in charge of administering it for them. Whether this is shots, pills, or IV medication, hospice RNs are responsible for knowing when patients need their medicine, how much they need, and ensuring it is administered properly. 
  • Managing symptoms and pain. A large part of hospice nursing is helping a patient feel comfortable as they end their life. These patients often aren’t receiving treatment to try and help them get better, but rather pain medication is administered to help them feel comfortable. Hospice registered nurses are responsible for talking to patients to understand if they are in pain, helping administer medication, and documenting what symptoms and medication a patient has. 
  • Helping during crisis situations. End-of-life care often means that a patient can face crisis situations where they are close to death. A hospice RN is responsible for helping family and caregivers handle these crisis situations. Often hospice patients are DNR, or do not resuscitate, which means if they stop breathing or have heart problems, hospice registered nurses aren’t to extend their life. It’s critical for a hospice RN to know when to intervene and when to not intervene, to help family and caregivers and even the patient themselves understand, and to always focus on the patient and their family in crisis situations.
  • Psychosocial support. Hospice care is complicated for the patient and family because they are dying. Mental, emotional, and social support is key during this time. Often hospice nurses become close to their patients and their families as they are with them during an extremely difficult time. It’s important for hospice nurses to be able to be professional while still offering that mental and social support to their patient and their family. 
  • Spiritual support. Beyond social and emotional support, many patients and their families seek spiritual support as death comes closer. Hospice nurses can offer help and kindness to patients and their families as they navigate thoughts of death and loss. Spirituality can often help hospice patients feel calm and relaxed about death, so hospice nurses can increase the peace and comfort a patient feels by offering spiritual support.
  • Educating family caregivers. A large role of any hospice nurse is to keep the patient and their family educated about what will happen. Family members often appreciate transparency and want to be in control as much as possible. Hospice nurses can educate family members on the condition of the patient, on medications, show how to provide comfort from pain, and offer that support that is crucial to helping them cope with a difficult situation.

How Do I Become a Hospice Nurse?

There are many benefits of becoming a hospice nurse including steady salary, high job security, and job fulfillment. While it’s difficult to work with patients who are dying, most hospice nurses say they find their jobs extremely rewarding. They spend their days making sure patients and their families are comfortable and enjoying time, which can lead to high job satisfaction. 

There are specific steps and requirements to become a hospice nurse, and it’s important to understand them before pursuing this career. There are some hospice positions that don’t require nursing experience, like a nursing aide or hospice aide. However, the majority of hospice positions require education and certification. 

CHPN

In order to become a hospice nurse or CHPN you must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) and be a registered nurse (RN). A degree is often key in helping demonstrate your experience and knowledge and preparing you for additional challenges in hospice nursing. Students can either become a registered nurse and then pursue a bachelor’s degree, or first pursue a bachelor’s degree and then become a registered nurse. Becoming a registered nurse is vital to working as a hospice nurse, and often nurses will need a few years of experience before they can transition to hospice nursing. CHPNs may also be currently on the path to earning a BSN while working as a CHPN or hospice nurse. CHPNs must pass the standardized HPCC CHPN exam to be certified for four years as a hospice nurse. Continuing education or recertification is required to keep up the certification. 

CHPLN

There are different requirements to become a CHPLN or certified hospice nurse. Different states may also have unique requirements for licensure. Similarly to CHPNs, CHPLNs must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and be a registered nurse to pursue this career. They also generally need to have nursing experience before they can be qualified to move into a hospice role. In general CHPLNs will need to take and pass the HPCC CHPLN exam which is valid for four years. However, some states have different licensure and experience requirements in order to become hospice nurses.

 

What Degrees are Best for a Hospice Nurse?

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,575 per 6-month term.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,795 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,385 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

Compare degrees
This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in...

A certificate for registered nurses with a...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a one-time Health Professions Fee of $350. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,795 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Next Start Date

Start the 1st of any month—as soon as you complete enrollment!

Apply Today

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about Online College Admissions at WGU


A hospice nurse helps an elderly woman out of her bed.

What Skills Does a Hospice Nurse Need?

Hospice nurses must be skilled in many areas. In addition to possessing the important medical skills any nurse must have, they should also have the necessary mental and emotional fortitude to work with patients who are nearing the end of life. Here are some of the skills a hospice nurse needs to succeed.

  • Communication. Hospice nurses must be skilled communicators who understand how to speak with families about difficult topics. Keeping families apprised of the latest health condition of their loved one is key to building trust and having a positive relationship.
  • Compassion. It can be a very emotional time for families who are preparing for a loved one to pass away. Being considerate and caring is key. Hospice nurses should show compassion and genuine concern for patients and their families.
  • Emotional resilience. Hospice nursing can be emotionally draining, as working with patients who are nearing the end of their life can bring on feelings of sadness and depression. By definition, in hospice nursing, your patients will not recover. You must be emotionally strong enough to deal with this fact over and over. 
  • Comfort with death. The goal of a hospice nurse is to help a patient pass away peacefully. Hospice nurses must grow accustomed to their patients dying and not become overwhelmed with feelings of depression or sadness that inhibit them from offering the best care to their other patients.

How Much Does a Hospice Nurse Make?

$81,000

According to ZipRecruiter, in 2021 hospice nurses earn an average salary of $81,417 per year. The top 1% make more than $138,000. The average salary varies greatly by state, with hospice nurses in Hawaii averaging $91,912 per year.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

9%

The market for RNs is projected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 according to the BLS, resulting in 276,800 new jobs over that span. The number of hospice nurses and workers has increased dramatically in recent years. As medical technology grows more sophisticated, hospice nurses will continue to be in higher demand as life is extended for many terminally ill patients.

 

Where Do Hospice Nurses Work?

Varies

Hospice nurses care for people at the end of their life. These nurses often work in patients’ homes, hospitals, or private care facilities.

Interested in Becoming a Hospice Nurse?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

View Degree Programs