My first week as a hospice nurse

February 1, 2015
Photo Credit: Kevin Harber

Photo Credit: Kevin Harber

Last Monday I took my first position as a Registered Nurse. I started at NorthCare Hospice and Palliative Care.

I have had a lot of different jobs in my lifetime. Half of them are in the medical field, and the other half are spread across construction, printing, self employment and retail. At no time during the last 24 years did I feel like any of those jobs had any spiritual significance until last week.

Hospice was on my list for a couple of reasons. The first reason was simply the schedule. I’m a family man, and I have no desire for rotating twelve-hour shifts like nurses work in the hospital. The second reason was because I was really interested in work that was more relational in nature. So many nursing jobs are too fast paced. The goal is to get the patient in and out as quickly as possible. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with this type of medical career. Short hospital stays are an essential component to healthcare. I had decided that I just wanted something different.

Over the last few months I have shared my interest in hospice nursing with friends, family and coworkers. I have received a wide variety of responses. People who have no experience with hospice just say that it sounds like emotionally draining work. When I talk to someone who has first-hand experience with hospice they usually get emotional, start crying and share about family or friends who received services from hospice. When I talk to someone who works in hospice they get a smile on their face and simply say, “Hospice is more than a job. It’s a calling.”

After a week of orientation at NorthCare Hospice I understand the designation, “Calling.” Before last Monday I understood hospice to involve helping people die as comfortably as possible. After a week of general orientation I understand that hospice is so much more than that. Hospice doesn’t just focus on keeping patients comfortable, even though that is an important aspect of hospice care. No, hospice isn’t only about death. Hospice is also about life. Hospice is about helping patients function at the highest possible level during their last months of life. Hospice is about empowering people to identify what is most important to them and helping them engage their last days in a way that is the most fulfilling to them.

Hospice is a calling because I will be a pivotal figure in the final chapter of someone’s life. I will manage their overall care. I’m responsible to make sure that my clients are equipped with everything they need to live their final days with dignity. I will be a central figure in the lives of immediate family as well. I will have at my disposal a team of professionals whose only concern is the care and comfort of my client. We will leave no stone unturned to make sure that our clients and their immediate families feel the support they need to manage the most challenging time of their life.

I have had a lot of jobs that I didn’t feel really mattered beyond providing for my family. For the first time in my life I feel like I will be doing something professionally that really makes a difference. For the first time in my life I feel like I will have a job that God has called me to do.

James Dibben


14 responses to My first week as a hospice nurse

  1. Good hospice nurses are true heroes & become part of the family if only for the time needed. Mom is still friends with the hospice nurse that helped her with Grandma, followed by Dad. I would qualify their friendship as special because of what they shared in the last year of my Dad’s life. You, James Dibben, will be a wonderful hospice nurse. As odd as it may sound, I was delighted to read you chose hospice as your new career. You will impact these families every bit as much as they will impact you. Your humor, compassion, faith & strength will ensure this. You will need our prayers. It won’t be all rainbows & stars. It will be full of messy humanity, but it will be worth it! Love you James & Julie! Keep laughing on and feel the joy every bit you can!

    • Thank you for the comments!

      We watched several very moving videos last week. I think I’m really going to love the culture that goes along with this kind of work. I can see myself doing this for many years to come.

  2. As a grief counselor who worked in hospice for 17 years, I can assure you that you will never regret your career decision, James. I’ve worked in many different settings throughout my nearly 50 years as a psych nurse, and nothing can compare to my experiences in hospice. You’ll find yourself working amongst earthly angels, and soon your clients will think of you as an angel, too. I am so happy for you, and I wish you all the best. ♥

  3. I have been a nurse for 32 years and at lest 10 of them in Hospice. I have worked in many aspects of Hospice and now I work in a Hospice Residence. Here, I am doing actual nursing 85% of the time and only 15% of my time is other things. Hospice is indeed a calling. A calling that I see as a blessed one. It is an honor and a privilege to assist those that are dying and those that love them in the most private and painful time of their lives. And I don’t necessarily need physical pain. There is emotional, mental and spiritual pain involved here as well. Every time I come to work, I feel blessed and am thankful for being called to do this vocation.

    James, Hospice is not an easy job but it is one of the most rewarding. Good Luck to you. Read everything you can and ask as many questions of your coworkers and supervisors as well. Value all the opinions as you will find a place for each one as you continue as a Hospice nurse. You’ve only just started. The best and the worse are yet to come. But even in the worse moment, I hope you still feel blessed. Just as I did.

    • Thank you, Kiri, for the encouragement. The company I am with is really giving me a lengthy orientation. I’m even getting to shadow someone from each department for a day. My new coworkers are all very passionate about this kind of work, and I find that very comforting.

  4. I have been a nurse for twenty two years and the last twelve has been in hospice care. I sometimes wonder why it took me ten years to gravitate to it. I cannot imagine doing anything else and plan to finish out my career here. It can be demanding, difficult work, but the rewards are well worth it. The stories I could tell about beautiful deaths and not so beautiful deaths could fill a book. I hope you love it as much as I do. Good luck in your new career!

    • Cathy, I’m starting to wonder what took me so long as well! I can’t help but think that my years of psych experience will be very helpful, so all is not lost, lol.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Thank you…my mother had hospice care for the last 13 days of her life. Hospice was a very helpful service. Thank you for serving families in this way.

  6. Thats awesome. I also work for Northcare. I think you will be awesome and your hearts in the right place. I always say being a hospice nurse and seeing what is really important has taught me the meaning of life and what truly matters. Your patients will teach you so much. I have learned to take less for granted. Welcome to a great team.

  7. Hi James

    Hospice nurse…what an inspired choice! (But what else should I have expected from such an inspiring person?).

    Please keep up with the postings. I really look forward to them.