What is a palliative care nurse and what do they do?

Palliative care nurses provide care for people who are living with terminal illnesses, helping them to achieve the best quality of life. As well as supporting patients, palliative care nurses also help families through some of the most difficult times in their lives.

At the Guild, our palliative care nurses are available at short notice to provide care within community and hospital settings. In this blog, we will discuss the role of a palliative care nurse, their responsibilities, necessary skills and the steps to take in order to become one.

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What is palliative care?

The main purpose of palliative care is to minimise any symptoms that are causing patients to feel discomfort as well as physical and emotional distress.

Patients could be in pain due to illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. These illnesses can result in patients and their loved ones needing palliative care nurses, who are there to enhance the level of comfort for patients and address any health issues that they experience.

What do palliative care nurses do?

A palliative care nurse takes on a wide variety of responsibilities, which can vary from day to day. They look after the wellbeing of patients and provide physical comfort and emotional support to both patients and their families.

The main duties of a palliative care nurse include:

  • Monitoring symptoms over time
  • Evaluating the health of patients to ensure they are getting the correct care
  • Helping patients adhere to their medication schedules
  • Maintaining a direct line of communication between patients and allied health professionals
  • Educating patients, their families and caregivers on managing symptoms
  • Aiding patients with any mobility issues they may have
  • Attending to the personal care needs of patients, such as feeding and bathing
  • Providing support and guidance to terminally ill patients in saying their goodbyes
  • Providing respite care for family members when they need a break

Palliative care nurses provide a multidisciplinary treatment approach that helps patients to maintain their physical and mental health. Patients will often have a customised plan that provides lasting relief – for palliative care nurses, there is typically a strong focus on improving the patient’s quality of life in their final days.

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Why become a palliative care nurse?

One of the main benefits of working as a palliative care nurse is that it’s an extremely rewarding career. You get to make a valuable difference in someone’s life. The role can bring with it great job satisfaction as you spend time caring for each patient, getting to know them and their family.

If you become a palliative care agency nurse with the Guild, you’ll also enjoy other benefits including the flexibility to choose your own shifts along with the opportunity to explore different Trusts, gain new experience and receive financial benefits. Furthermore, you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact someone’s life during uncertain times when they might have otherwise missed out on the support they need.

Where can palliative care nurses work?

As a palliative care nurse, you have the opportunity to work in various settings, including:

  • Patient homes – this allows patients to remain in their homes while receiving end-of-life care. Palliative care nurses will either move into a patient’s home to provide around-the-clock care or pay home visits at arranged times, including overnight. Home care visits allow family members and carers to take a break and gain access to guidance on managing the person’s symptoms.
  • Hospices – in hospice palliative care, nurses assist patients in achieving the highest quality of life possible. They can provide support and guidance during difficult moments, while also helping to relieve symptoms.
  • Care homes – receiving end-of-life care in a care home where the patient resides can be a more peaceful and comfortable setting compared to a hospital ward. However, only care homes with staff trained in palliative care are equipped to provide this level of support.
  • Hospitals – palliative care teams will monitor discharge plans, ensuring patients are transferred to receive palliative care in hospices, care homes, or their own homes. It is often delivered over a short-term period and by a specialist team or nurse.

Skills for palliative care nursing

The skills and qualities that are important for a palliative care nurse to possess include the following:  

  • Communication you will be communicating with healthcare professionals and family members, providing regular updates on patients’ conditions.
  • Compassion just like in all types of nursing, empathy and compassion are essential. You will need to be able to empathise with your patients and the struggles they are experiencing.
  • Adaptability you may need to adapt to patients’ personalities, moods and conditions. As illnesses can cause patients to deteriorate both physically and mentally, you will also need to be able to provide appropriate care when this occurs.
  • Resilience palliative nursing comes with a multitude of challenges. It is essential that you can work well under pressure, and cope with any challenges that come your way.
  • Observation being observant is a critical skill to possess. As changes occur in a patient’s health, it is important to be able to notice them and take the action that is needed.
  • Initiative if someone receiving palliative care is in pain or experiencing a health issue, you need to be able to use your training and initiative to implement best practices and deliver the most appropriate care and support.

How do I become a registered palliative care nurse?

To work as a palliative care nurse in Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, it is necessary to first become a registered nurse.

There are a number of routes into nursing, including completing a degree or traineeship approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), or the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland .

Once qualified as a nurse, you will need to complete end-of-life training. Training can vary from short courses where you gain a completion certificate at the end, to longer courses taking a few weeks where a palliative care qualification is achieved. Training can be done whilst you work as a general nurse or within a palliative care setting such as in a hospice.

To be able to practice in the UK, all nurses have to register with the NMC or the NMBI in Ireland.

Becoming a palliative care nurse with the Guild?

Are you thinking of becoming a palliative care nurse? Here at the Guild, we have a wide range of roles in different locations that offer a multitude of benefits such as competitive pay and training opportunities.

Contact our team today for more information, or register online now.

Register with the Nursing Guild

We’re looking for exceptional nursing and midwifery professionals like you to join our team. Register with the Nursing Guild to access high rates of pay, paid mileage and support with revalidation.

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