As a nurse, there is a wide variety of patient care that you can explore, though they all centre on a key aim: to improve your patients’ quality of life.
Aside from the much-portrayed varieties like emergency or urgent care, in which you will be working to help your cure your patients from an immediate illness, there are other types of care that support patients dealing with serious, long-term illnesses, like palliative and hospice care. These two forms of care are often misunderstood to be interchangeable. However, though they have much in common, there are also important differences between the two.
Palliative vs Hospice care
Both palliative and hospice care support people of all ages with serious, long-term illnesses including cancer, dementia, heart failure and kidney/liver diseases. Regardless of the illness, both types of care are aimed at improving patients’ quality of life, increasing their overall comfort, providing patients and their families with emotional support, and helping them make important decisions about medical treatment.
The key difference between the two is when each service is available to patients.
Palliative care is specialised medical care for patients with a serious illness, and focuses on enhancing their current care by focusing on quality of life for them and their family. On the other hand, hospice care focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life.
As such, palliative care is helpful at any stage of illness, and is best provided soon after diagnosis to complement the treatment prescribed by the patient’s primary doctor to cure an illness. On the contrary, hospice care is only advised once the patient is no longer responding to medical treatments to cure their illness; to qualify, a medical professional also has to assess that the patient has less than six months left to live.
Patients in palliative care can continue receiving their curative or life-prolonging treatments, if they wish to.
However, those opting for hospice care will need to stop all curative or life-prolonging forms of treatment – this doesn’t mean that they don’t receive medical care though. Instead, medical care will be focused on treating symptoms, which will help improve the patient’s quality of life.
What to expect as a palliative or hospice nurse
Fundamentally, your job scope as a palliative or hospice nurse will be similar. Your goal is to deliver compassionate and evidence-based care to your patients, to improve their quality of life. This can include pain control, symptom relief, and nursing care. Aside from medical support, you will also provide your patients and their families with social, emotional, and practical support, and provide and guide them in making important decisions. Palliative nurses will guide patients and their families with medical and treatment decisions, while hospice nurses will guide them on end-of-life decisions.
Palliative and hospice nurses also tend to become the patient and the family’s main point of contact – hence, you will also be expected to give family members constant updates on the patient’s conditions and as well as any medical advice. You will also visit your patient regularly, depending on the schedule your team agrees on with the patient’s family.
Increasingly, the roles of the palliative and hospice nurses have enlarged to include educating the public about hospice and palliative awareness. This can include training student nurses, medical undergraduates and postgraduate physicians.
As a palliative or hospice nurse, expect to be providing your patients with exceptionally high quality care – a boon for you if you’ve felt this to be lacking in your hospital roles. Because your patients in this stage are more ill, suffering from serious long-term illnesses or a terminal illness, you will always have to carefully evaluate their symptoms and make sound decisions. When you’ve gained enough experience or have worked closely with the doctor for a period of time, this may sometimes require you to work independently, and trust your judgement based on your patient’s needs.
⏰ Flexible work schedules, better work-life balance
Like any other medical professional, you will be working as part of the team. In this case, you will be working with doctors and other nurses specialising in palliative or hospice care, as well as other healthcare professionals including the primary doctor, pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists, and counsellors.
Specifically with hospice care, as you will be providing care to someone who is dying, you might find yourself working with a team that includes spiritual advisers and trained volunteers.
Palliative and hospice care are available in a range of different institutions, which forms your work environment. Both forms of care can be provided in your patient’s home, hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, or assisted-living facilities. There are also hospice facilities for hospice care. Depending on your schedule, you might be hopping from their homes to an assisted living facility, within a day.
As you will be required to provide nursing care to your patients, you will need to have a valid registration with the Singapore Nursing Board, and possess a diploma or bachelor in nursing. Most roles also call for at least 2 to 3 years of working experience, and show preference for specialist or advanced diplomas in palliative care or oncology.
That said, if you’d like to try out the role and have little experience, you can start by going on home care visits. Being a Homage Nurse will give you exposure to caregiving across a variety of settings including private homes, day care centres, nursing homes and hospitals. What’s more, stand to work flexible hours and earn rewarding hourly rates as well.
Undoubtedly, the roles of the palliative and hospice nurses are challenging ones. They take resilience and emotional savviness to navigate the job. That said, many palliative and hospice nurses have grown to view their role as a privilege and calling, to be given the permission to enter a patient’s life, and make a difference in their final days. Often within the intimacies of the patients’ homes, this enables you to forge stronger bonds with the patients themselves as well as their families, empowering you to provide them with a high quality of focused care that cannot be replicated in the hospital or clinical setting.
If you are unsure of which care setting is best for you, being a Homage Nurse will give you exposure to caregiving across a variety of settings including private homes, day care centres, nursing homes and hospitals. What’s more, stand to work flexible hours and earn rewarding hourly rates as well.