Explore the Web sites of professional associations such as the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association (NHPCA), and others mentioned at the end of this article, to learn more about hospice workers' roles and responsibilities. Visit the Education section of NHPCA's site for information on upcoming workshops and conferences, as well as other educational resources. Ask a teacher or counselor to arrange an information interview with a hospice worker. You also can volunteer to care for a family member who is ill or elderly or volunteer at a local hospice or social services agency.
Hospice workers help patients who have a variety of terminal illnesses and who can no longer benefit from curative treatment. Typically, a hospice patient has less than six months to live.
Hospice workers are a team of trained professionals that include administrators, physicians, nurses, counselors, chaplains, therapists, social workers, aides, and volunteers. Hospice organizations rely heavily on volunteers, who must participate in intensive volunteer training.
Hospices use a team approach to plan and coordinate care for the patient. This team includes the patient, family, and the hospice team, all working together. Family or primary caregivers can call for the help of a hospice team member 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a team member will respond whenever needed.
Hospice workers' job responsibilities are related to their profession. Hospice medical directors may be licensed physicians who oversee the medical program and advise the hospice care staff. Field supervisors, supervisors of home health care aides, and supervisors of rehabilitation services oversee the activities of their particular hospice team. They ensure that each patient is properly attended to by the various hospice specialists. Registered nurses visit patients to monitor their emotional and physical symptoms. Nurse assistants and home health care aides assist the family in the personal care of the patient such as bathing, grooming, and changing the bed linens. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists help patients with daily living tasks that have become difficult or impossible to perform. Social workers help the patient and family deal with the emotions surrounding the illness. They also help locate personal and community resources that may assist the patient or the family. Volunteer coordinators organize and direct the volunteer program and oversee training programs for volunteers. Chaplains provide religious support to the patient and family in accordance with their specific religious beliefs. Music therapists use music to provide comfort and relaxation to the patient. Grief therapists help patients accept and deal with their terminal illness. After a patient dies, the therapist helps his or her family deal with the death of their loved one and cope with their grief.