4 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Hospice Nurse

Care Dimensions nurse Molly Polansky checking heartbeat and pulse of female hospice patient

Molly Polansky, RN, checks the pulse of one of her hospice patients.

After a short career teaching English to high school students with learning disabilities, I was lucky to stay home with my children when they were babies. When my youngest was a preschooler, I began researching new career and educational opportunities. While I enjoyed teaching as a career, I discovered that nursing had a lot to offer me: new knowledge and new ways to help people. I love being a hospice nurse. It is a dynamic and energizing career!


Since joining Care Dimensions as a hospice nurse in September 2015, I’ve learned some important lessons that I’d like to share with anyone who may be considering a career in hospice or palliative care.


1.  My job is joyful and fulfilling.  People who have not experienced hospice as a family member or as a member of a care team are startled when I tell them what I do. They wonder how I have the emotional strength to care for the dying. I do occasionally cry with and for patients; however, sad visits are few and far between. Most of the people I care for have accepted their illness and are focused on making the most of each day, which is an inspiring and contagious attitude.  For example, I care for a lady with cancer who greets each day with joy and has such a great sense of humor that I am often still laughing as I drive away from her home. She and her caregivers give me renewing energy and show me that this job is far from depressing.


2.  Good listening is vital to good care.  It’s important to listen to patients and their families. Sometimes this can mean coming to understand cultural differences in end-of-life care. I once had the pleasure of caring for a husband and wife who were both on hospice. Raised outside the United States, they moved here as young adults and assimilated into the American culture while maintaining many customs from their homeland. They were blessed with a large, caring, and diverse family. Caring for this couple and their family started with listening carefully to their background and learning about their attitudes—how they understand and approach life, illness, family, and dying. This family happily taught me the lesson of good listening.  I think about them often, and smile.

There are few, if any, nursing jobs that afford us the luxury of 45-minute visits with patients. My job as a hospice nurse with Care Dimensions gives me the luxury of that time: time to listen, teach, and build trust with patients and families.


3.  Being a hospice nurse means that every day is different, full of opportunities for learning and growth. It is fun to be out and about, seeing people in their natural environments. During nice weather, I have had the treat of visiting people outside in gardens or on their porches. I learn a lot about people, quickly, when I am a guest in their homes. There, they are comfortable and relaxed, meeting me on their own “turf.” They are also very happy to not be in the hospital anymore, and looking forward to staying at home. Caring for people in their homes means meshing best nursing practice with their real lives. In this, I am a teacher again, teaching families how to care for each other. I teach them skills such as medication administration, but I also help them support and encourage each other.


4.  I can always help. I chose hospice nursing because I knew that I wanted to take care of people who really needed me. It feels good to throw my bag on my shoulder, walk up to a patient’s house for the first time – not knowing what I’ll find behind the door– and know that I can deal with the situation, whatever it is. When I completed my hospice nurse training with Care Dimensions, I felt well prepared. I draw on my experience and rely on the team. Even if I am the only Care Dimensions staff member in the house, help is only a phone call away. I can always call a doctor, nurse practitioner, my clinical manager, or a social worker who can help if needed. I also work closely with patients’ primary care doctors and their teams—these folks have often known the patient and his or her family for years and provide valuable insight which helps me give the best care possible. I’m not alone out there!


Want to learn more about what it’s like to work for Care Dimensions? Visit the Careers section of our website.


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Molly Polansky, RN, is a hospice nurse case manager with Care Dimensions.

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"Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts."