How to Become a Hospice Nurse:
The Definitive Guide

There are no greater people in the world than Hospice Nurses.

These wonderful souls are responsible for taking care of patients who are at the end of their life.

Whether working in a hospital or giving at-home care, Hospice Nurses provide comfort, comradery, and medical care to those who are on bed rest or are being supported at the end of their life.

A Hospice Nurse plays the role of caregiver while the family spends their last days together.

What is a Hospice Nurse?

Being a Hospice Nurse can take a toll on people, it’s a very heavy career.

That’s why it takes a strong person to become a Hospice Nurse.

In this field, you can expect to do things that allow patients who are on their end of life journey to have comfort and spend their final days at peace.

It’s possible to work in hospitals in triage or spend your days going from home to home to visit patients.

Often times, hospice nurses give around the clock care to their patients.


As a Hospice Nurse, your day will be filled with filling and administering medications, as well as keeping your patient comfortable.

Some of the other duties that your job may entail include:

  • Pain management
  • Providing support for patients and family
  • Patient assessments
  • Create plans of care
  • Order supplies
  • Ensure medication is available


The average salary for a Hospice Nurse in the United States is around $77,000 per year.

There are several Hospice Nurses who make less than average, at around $52,000 a year in some areas.

Hospice Nurses who have a lot of experience, education, and certification in their field can make more money.

Someone with several years of experience in nursing can expect to make around $110,000 a year as a Hospice Nurse.

People who work in areas like California or Florida, with high elderly populations, typically make more money than Hospice Nurses who work in areas like South Dakota where the population is much smaller.

The top five states for Hospice Nurses are California, Hawaii, Washington DC, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

The lowest-earning state is Mississippi.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $77,460


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$94,820
New Hampshire$73,880
New Jersey$84,280
New Mexico$73,300
New York$87,840
North Carolina$66,440
North Dakota$66,290
Rhode Island$82,310
South Carolina$64,840
South Dakota$59,540
West Virginia$63,220
Puerto Rico$35,040
Virgin Islands$68,500

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $113,240.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $113,240
Hawaii - $104,060
District of Columbia - $94,820
Massachusetts - $93,160
Oregon - $92,960
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become a Hospice Nurse

Step 1Earn a Degree

The first thing that you are going to have to do, no matter what field of nursing you plan to work in, is to earn a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Hospitals and other facilities will not hire nurses that do not have a formal education, this is to ensure that they are competent in their job.

A Bachelor’s degree takes around four years to complete but also provides clinical and lab time so that students can gain hands-on experience before they step into the workforce.

There are many online classes available, but in-person classes are advised.

Some of the courses that you can expect to take for a Bachelors degree in nursing include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Ethics
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology and Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Professional Nursing
  • Family Nursing
  • Public Health

In order to work anywhere in the United States, you must become a registered nurse after you earn a degree.

Step 2Become Registered

Once you earn a degree, it is time to become a Registered Nurse.

This is a crucial step in the process, as it is illegal to not be registered in the United States.

In order to become a Registered nurse, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN examination.

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses or NCLEX-RN exam is used to determine a nurse’s competence in the field.

Most of the questions on this test are multiple-choice, and it is competency-based.

This means that the more you know about nursing, the fewer questions you will have to answer.

Some of the categories that can be expected on this test are:

  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Management of Care
  • Safety and Infection Control

This exam costs around $200 to take, and if you fail the exam the first time you can retake it.

It’s only possible to retake the test three times a year.

Step 3Gain Experience

Once you pass the exam and become a Registered Nurse, it’s time to work in the field.

There are many chances to work as a Registered Nurse in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and anywhere else that needs medical personnel.

Experience in acute nursing will provide an aspiring Hospice Nurse with great knowledge.

Some other areas that should be explored before becoming a Hospice Nurse include:

  • Surgery
  • Geriatrics
  • ICU Nursing

In order to work as a Hospice Nurse, it’s important to have at least three years of experience as a Registered Nurse.

You cannot apply to earn a certification in Hospice Nursing until you have had three years of experience in Hospice Nursing as well.

Some areas allow for two years, but that depends on the state and the program.

Step 4Become Certified

After several years working as a Hospice Nurse, it is time to become certified.

Being certified as a Hospice Nurse shows patients, their families, as well as employers that you are competent and educated on the role of Hospice Nurse.

Some hospice care facilities do not require certification, but it is still advised to obtain them.

One of the most important certifications for a Hospice Nurse is the Hospice and Palliative Nurse Certification.

This certification comes from the Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses.

In order to take the exam to gain this certification, you will need to have at least two years of experience in Hospice Nursing as well as a valid Registered Nursing license.

The exam consists of 150 questions and costs around $415 to apply.

Some of the topics covered in this exam include:

  • Life-Limiting Conditions
  • Pain Management
  • Symptom Management
  • Respiratory Issues
  • Interventions

Once the exam is passed, the Hospice Nurse has become certified in the field.


If you are looking at a career as a Hospice Nurse, then you will first need to attend a university or other higher education program in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

A Bachelor’s degree in nursing takes around four years to complete and includes an internship as well as labs and clinical’s.

The experience gained in school should set a nurse up for a great career.

There should also be a lot of hands-on training in nursing school because practicing the craft is better than just hearing about it.

Some of the classes that you will likely take in a nursing program include:

  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Patient Care
  • Medical Terminology
  • Nursing Practices
  • Family Nursing
  • Medical and Surgical Care

It’s possible that you will also have to take classes like English, math, and psychology in order to earn a degree.

It’s possible to earn a nursing degree online, however it is important to do clinical and lab work in person.

When searching for a school to attend, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • The pass rate of previous students
  • Percentage of graduates from the most recent year who have jobs as nurses
  • The student to teacher ratio
  • Accreditation

Schools that are accredited by the US Department of Education are the proper schools to attend, this will provide you the ability to gain employment as a nurse as well as to become registered.

It’s possible to earn an Associate’s degree in nursing as well.

This will provide you with the ability to gain employment in entry-level positions.

An Associate’s degree can take around two years to complete.

Regardless of whether you plan to attend college to earn an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree, it’s important to gain experience in the field.

Nurses who have hands-on experience while in school are much more likely to gain employment after graduation.

Video About The Career


Once you graduate from an accredited nursing school, it’s time to become a licensed nurse.

As a licensed nurse you will be considered a Registered Nurse and will be able to work anywhere in the United States as a nurse.

It is a legal requirement to obtain a license after graduating from a program.

In order to become a Registered Nurse, you will need to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

This exam consists of around 250 questions, however, the test is scored on competency.

This means that you may only have to answer 75 questions, depending on how many questions you’ve gotten right so far.

Most of the questions are given in the multiple-choice form, and some of the questions are in written form.

Some of the sections of study for the exam include:

  • Safe and Effective Care Management
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

Since this exam is pass/fail, there are no scores and you will get the answer to whether you passed or failed within several weeks of taking the test.

If you fail the test, it’s possible to retake after a 45 day wait period.

This exam can cost around $450 to register.

After you have gained some experience as a Registered Nurse, it may be time to look for other certifications.

One, in particular, the Certified Hospice Nurse certification, is popular among nurses in the Hospice field.

In order to be eligible for this certification, a nurse must:

  • Have a current and valid registration
  • 500 hours of hospice care experience in the last 12 months

The exam for this certification costs around $450.

This particular exam is given 4 times a year, so check your testing locations for available dates.

There are 150 questions on this exam, but it is competency-based as well.

The more questions that a test taker gets correct, the less number of questions they’ll have to answer in total.

Some of the areas that may be on the exam include:

  • Nutrition
  • Patient and Family Care
  • Drug Names
  • Patient Symptom Management
  • Patient Pain Management
  • Life-Limiting Conditions

In order to stay on top of your credentials, it’s important to renew this certification every 3 years.

After passing this exam, you will be considered a Certified Hospice Nurse.

Certification Example:

nursing ba example

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

The average training program to become a Hospice Nurse depends on the school that you attend, as well as the requirements for your state.

Some training programs can go on for a few weeks, and some can last for several years.

The training program that you choose can teach you many important factors when looking to work as a Hospice Nurse, so it is wise to think about the quality of the education rather than the amount of time that it will take to finish the program.

There are even programs online, which may be accelerated, but it’s important to gain hands-on experience as well.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

If you are looking forward to a career as a Hospice Nurse but are worried there won’t be any job opportunities for you, don’t fret.

It seems that the career of Hospice Nurse, as well as all other Registered Nurses, will likely rise around 12 percent within the next decade.

This is due to the aging population, the baby boomers are growing older and require care.

Technological advancements and even things like insurance issues can make it so that more people are requiring in-home hospice care.

For more opportunities as a Hospice Nurse, look for work in places with larger populations, especially places with larger elderly populations.

* The numbers below represent all registered nurses and are not exclusive for hospice nurses.

Employment Growth Projection: 12%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 371,500 jobs.

Should You Become a Hospice Nurse?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Most Hospice Nurses seem to love their job; however, it can be emotional.

Helping people at the end of their life can be rewarding, as you make them comfortable for their transition.

It can also be very sad when a patient passes away.

Even with the emotional toll, many Hospice Nurses say they wouldn’t trade their job for anything.

The hours can be more taxing than other careers, with shifts as much as 12-16 hours on some days.

Hospice Nurses are strong individuals who love the work that they do.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

On average in the United States, a Hospice Nurse will make around $77,000 a year.

Don’t expect to make that right out of school, though, incoming Hospice Nurses will make around 52,000 a year.

With experience, education, and specializations, it’s possible to earn up to $110,000 or more as a Hospice Nurse.

Those that work in highly populated areas, especially populated with the elderly generation, will likely find more job opportunities than Hospice Nurses working in rural areas.

Some Hospice Nurses even travel to different locations to earn more money.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

For Hospice Nurses, there will likely be a rise in job opportunities in the next decade and beyond.

This is because of the rising elderly population, and the need for in-home hospice care.

Advanced treatments and technological developments have also given this opportunity to many people.

The career of Hospice Nurse, as well as Registered Nursing across the board, will gain momentum and rise around 12 percent in the next ten years.

You can expect to find job opportunities in places with a larger population, especially the aging population.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

In order to work as any kind of nurse in the United States, you must have some form of formal education.

Most people that want to become Hospice Nurses decide that they want to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

On average, a Bachelor’s degree in nursing can take around four years to complete.

There are some accelerated tracks that can be done through universities or even online, but many suggest not to skimp out on schooling.

For those that are looking to earn an Associate’s degree or a certificate from a nursing program, these can take around two years to earn.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Hospice Nurses are there for patients to comfort them at the end of their life.

This means that a Hospice Nurse must have certain qualities in order to be great at this career.

Some of the personal traits needed to be a Hospice Nurse are:

  • Registered Nursing skills
  • Empathy
  • Communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Ability to remain calm in stressful times
  • Critical thinking abilities
  • Attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • Compassion

Remember, as a Hospice Nurse you will be working with patients and their families at a very serious and often scary time in their lives, having compassion and empathy will go a long way in the career.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary of a Hospice Nurse?

Many people who work as a Hospice Nurse can expect to have a good salary.

On average, a Hospice Nurse makes around $77,000 a year in the United States.

This is much higher than many other careers in the medical field.

Those that are just starting out in the career can expect a salary closer to $52,000 a year, however.

Also, for Hospice Nurses with a lot of experience, the salary can be as much as $110,000 a year in some areas.

Q. How long does it take to become a Hospice Nurse?

One of the things about this career is that it may take a long time to enter this field, but being a Hospice Nurse is very important.

This means that experience is key, and in order to be the best Hospice Nurse, you need a lot of experience.

On average, it takes anywhere from 4-8 years to become a Hospice Nurse.

This is because you will need experience in Registered Nursing, as well as education and certification.

Q. What does a Hospice Nurse do?

When people are sick or getting old and dying, a Hospice Nurse is there to make them comfortable and keep them company as they transition from this life to death.

You can find a Hospice Nurse administering medications and taking vitals from patients.

It’s possible that a Hospice Nurse will keep a patient company, as well as provide food and comfort.

They also work with families to ensure that everyone is happy with the care they are receiving.

Q. What is the demand for Hospice Nurses?

The thing about humans is that we all pass away, which is sad, yes, but it does provide jobs for Hospice Nurses.

Since people will always be dying, there will always be a need for Hospice Nurses.

With the baby boomer generation growing older, this career will rise within the next decade in order to accommodate for that.

More technology advancements as well as patients wanting a comfortable experience at home also calls for more Hospice Nurses in the future.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Hospice Nurse?

In order to become a Hospice Nurse, you will need to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

On average, a Bachelor’s degree costs around $30,000 in the United States, depending on the school that you attend.

Some programs are much cheaper, at around $2,000, but they also don’t provide the extra education that a college degree does.

With certification and education, it can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $35,000 to become a Hospice Nurse.

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