Kathleen Malhame, RN, started working at Northwell Health 14 years ago and served as a registered nurse in different areas of specialization throughout her career, but her passion was always hospice nursing. Today, as a field registered nurse (RN), she covers the inpatient hospice care unit at Stern Family Rehabilitation Center and makes home visits for patients admitted to the home care hospice program. Her responsibilities range from emotional and psychosocial support, symptom management and education to pain management and end-of-life care.
When people think about a hospice nurse role, it may be difficult to imagine themselves working with patients who are living their final days, weeks, or months. What most people don’t know, is hospice nurses wouldn’t trade what they do for anything else. For those in this career, like Kathleen, it’s a passion and a privilege to help improve the quality of life for a patient’s remaining days and to serve as a source of support for a patient’s family.
Read below to learn more about Kathleen’s career journey and five reasons to consider a career in hospice nursing.
1. Hospice nurses love what they do.
Our team members don’t become hospice nurses by accident. Nurses like Kathleen always found themselves drawn to patients who were dying. Early in Kathleen’s career, she worked as an oncology nurse with cancer patients and with patients with HIV/AIDS, before today’s effective treatments were available.
Kathleen shared, “It’s an honor to help patients with their journey. We develop close bonds with them and because we’re in their homes, we’re often there to witness emotional interactions between patients and their loved ones. You can feel it when you’re in the presence of love—it’s palpable.”
2. Hospice nurses have many roles.
Before patients enter hospice, they may have struggled with shortness of breath, unmanaged pain, or other symptoms. Hospice nurses offer interventions that help to ease these symptoms. But hospice care goes beyond managing physical symptoms.
Some patients are very accepting of their diagnosis and prognosis. Other individuals struggle, unsettled by their circumstances. Our hospice nurses work with the social worker to pick up on things like this, to help patients reach a better place emotionally. Hospice nurses are also an invaluable resource for loved ones.
3. Hospice nurses work with people of all ages.
While the majority of hospice patients are older adults, there are no age limits on hospice. Anyone who has a prognosis of six months or less can be eligible from babies, children, teenagers, and young adults in hospice. For patients of all ages, hospice nurses help to ease symptoms while offering compassionate care.
4. Hospice nurses help guide families through different experiences.
When a hospice nurse meets with patients and families for the first time, they tell them that hospice care creates a 24-hour safety net for symptom management.
There’s nothing mundane about this job. Every day our team members see different patients and families coping with their conditions and try to help improve situations. The job allows us to focus on patients and family members by providing health knowledge and emotional support to help family members cope with the reality of the situation.
Sometimes a hospice nurse might sing to a patient with end-stage dementia because dementia patients are often able to connect with music. If a patient needs to be transferred to an inpatient unit for a higher level of care, our team might arrange for the family to get together one last time at home, before the patient leaves. If the patient’s children live far away, they might speak with them by phone and get to know their local caregivers.
5. Hospice care is mission-driven work.
There are advantages of the hospice benefit that many patients and their families don’t know about it. Because of this, some patients come onto hospice very late where families may not hear about it until the final days of their loved one’s life.
“Hospice is so often centered around the certainty of death,” shared Kathleen, “If there was anything I would want my patients, families and colleagues to know and understand about this profession, is that the mission of the work we do looks to celebrate life and to continue to provide quality resources to support each and every life story.”
Discover a career well cared for at Northwell and explore a meaningful career in hospice care.