What Does a Palliative Care Nurse Do? (Plus Their Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 7, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A palliative care nurse provides medical care for patients living with a severe illness and provides them with relief from its stress and symptoms. These professionals have many duties, including caring for patients, checking vital signs, administering medicine, and communicating with doctors. Learning more about how palliative care nurses improve the quality of life for patients and their families can help you determine if your skills fit this role. In this article, we discuss what a palliative care nurse does, the types of palliative care, the skills of a palliative nurse, their average salary, and how to become one.

Answering "What does a palliative care nurse do?"

To answer "What does a palliative care nurse do?" you can consider how these professionals help patients with life-threatening illnesses from the time they receive a diagnosis. Palliative care nurses visit their patient's homes if they're too ill to visit an office or work as primary care providers within a community. They see patients in health care centres, such as cancer clinics or hospitals. A palliative care nurse uses their nursing process to assess, diagnose, plan, provide, and evaluate their patient's care.

These nurses also conduct comprehensive physical examinations and advocates for necessary health care changes that can improve their patient's quality of life. Palliative nurses can also be active within political and organizational discussions that affect health care policy changes. They are a part of multidisciplinary health care teams and collaborate with other community members and professionals, ensuring their patients' wellness and comfort.

Related: Different Types of Nurses (With Duties and Salaries)

Types of palliative care

When working as a palliative care nurse, you may provide patients with the following care:


Patients may find it difficult to talk to their loved ones or other caregivers about how they're feeling or their health status and treatments. The palliative nurse can also provide support for family members. For example, the nurse can help determine what kind of help they require to help their loved one. Palliative care nurses help with these situations by:

  • Helping plan family meetings

  • Suggesting ways to organize people who can help

  • Helping find medical information, services, or rides


Having a terminal illness can make patients feel various emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, or anger. A palliative nurse and other specialists, including support groups, counsellors, or psychologists, can help patients understand and cope with these emotions. These nurses can encourage their patients to discuss how they feel and help them find ways to cope.


Patients with a terminal illness can have symptoms, treatments, and medications that affect how their minds work. For example, a cancer patient may not be getting enough sleep, experiencing anxiety about whether their treatment is working, or having a difficult time thinking clearly. A palliative care nurse can provide these patients with mental health care such as counselling, exercise, meditation, and medication that can help them endure or overcome these issues.


Several factors can determine a patient's physical side effects of their illness and treatment, such as their general health. A palliative care nurse can provide care for the physical side effects, such as physical therapy, anti-nausea medicines, or nutritional help. The physical effects of a patient's illness can last after their treatment is complete. A palliative care nurse can also help treat these late effects, which is an essential function of survivorship care.

Palliative care nurse skills

The following skills represent the core elements of a palliative care nurse:

Communication skills

A range of sensitive and facilitative communication skills is a requirement for nurses. For example, palliative care may respond using therapeutic, comforting touch to lower a patient's anxiety or help colleagues inform a patient about their health status. Palliative nurses stand out with this skill because of their ability to respond to questions about terminal illnesses.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Psychosocial skills

Palliative care nurses can work with their patient's families, anticipate their needs, direct them to the proper services, and support them when necessary. These nurses are there during the patient's difficult moments. Moments such as helping their patients plan future care, providing strategies and ongoing psychological support, and coordinating with other healthcare team members. This continuing relationship between palliative nurses and their patients builds trust and confidence at the core of the psychosocial approach of palliative nursing.

Teamwork skills

A vital part of palliative nursing is working closely with other multidisciplinary team members. Since a palliative care nurse can be in community settings and private or public care, you can find them outside a hospice environment. These professionals can use their teamwork skills to work with registered nurses and physicians, supervise licensed practical nurses, or assist in medical procedures.

Physical care skills

Physical care skills are necessary to deliver hands-on care throughout the period of a patient's illness. Palliative care nurses focus on patients' acute and chronic pain. Accurate pain assessment using various tools is crucial, and the ability to use these tools when a patient isn't able to respond to questions. The palliative care nurse's observational skills and intuition can help recognize signs of discomfort with patients who regularly under-report their pain.

Intrapersonal skills

The ability to address challenging intrapersonal issues when caring for terminally ill patients and their families is vital to palliative care. Palliative care nurses can recognize and attempt to understand the personal reactions because of working with terminally ill patients. They reflect on how this can affect their care in sensitive situations. These skills can be vital in a nurse's professional growth. They can focus their interaction with patients on finding the best approach to help them understand their health condition and emotions.

Related: Nursing Skills (With Definition, Tips, and Examples)

Palliative care nurse average salary

The national average salary of a palliative care nurse is $40.00 per hour. Wages may vary depending on a nurse's employer, expertise level, and location. Usually, experienced palliative care nurses receive better salaries, as these professionals have created a reputation and they know how to work with different patients and colleagues.

How to become a palliative care nurse

You can use the following steps to become a palliative care nurse:

1. Earn a degree

A palliative care nurse is a registered nurse with a degree in nursing. The program can take three to four years to finish, depending on course availability. Most provincial and territorial nursing associations in the country require potential nurses to have a bachelor's degree. You can check your province's nursing association or regulatory body for a list of nursing programs and schools in your area.

2. Get a nursing license

You can contact the regulatory body in your province to figure out the steps to take to qualify for a license in your area. Most require you to take one or more licensing exams to show your nursing competency. For example, when you begin the process of being a licensed nurse in Ontario, you first register with the College of Nurses of Ontario.

To work as a registered nurse in the country, it's a requirement to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam. Each board of nursing or regulatory body in the country has its requirements for eligibility for members looking to take the NCLEX. You can contact the appropriate organization in your local area to determine the requirements before applying to take the exam.

3. Meet the basic requirements

It's a requisite to be fluent when speaking and writing English or French and register in the same jurisdiction as your nursing education program. Another requirement to work as a nurse is Canadian citizenship, permanent resident status, or authorization to work as a nurse, according to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Act. There is a requirement for potential nurses to display exemplary character and suitability for practice. This assessment of your character and suitability can require a criminal record check submission.

Related: Which Written Communication Skills Are Important in the Workplace?

4. Get a palliative nursing certification

To specialize in palliative nursing, getting a certificate when you complete nursing school can make your application more attractive to employers. You can research the various palliative care certifications to find their requirements to qualify for certification. Some certifications may require that you take an exam before receiving a designation. The certificates that you can apply for include:

  • Canadian Palliative Care Nursing Association (CPCNA)

  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN)

  • Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPC)

5. Craft a resume

A strong resume is essential to getting a job as a palliative nurse. A nursing resume can include a brief statement of your nursing career objectives, skills, and an education summary. You can also add a list of honours and awards, your work experience, and a list of any relevant memberships or affiliations.

6. Search for nursing jobs

You can find palliative nursing positions on a variety of job boards. It's beneficial to start by searching for nurse job postings with your qualifications. You can find nursing positions throughout the country on various websites. There are also region-specific nursing job boards that can show you the details of palliative care nursing positions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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