How to Become a Palliative Care Nurse

Nursing is a field with many different options for your career and education. Find out how to become a palliative care nurse.

portrait of Emily Gillespie-Lord
by Emily Gillespie-Lord

Published August 12, 2022

Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW

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How to Become a Palliative Care Nurse
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Nurses are advocates for their patients and patients' families. Palliative care nurses should have great organization and critical thinking skills. This role involves coordination with patients' families, making communication important as well. Nurses in this speciality should be empathetic and caring, especially when patients are receiving end-of-life care.

What Does a Palliative Care Nurse Do?

A palliative care nurse assists in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have potentially terminal illnesses.

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Ready to start your journey?

The more advanced your degree, the more responsibilities you have. A licensed practical nurse can transfer credits to a nursing school and become a registered nurse. After a few years of experience and specialized certification, some nurses choose to further their careers and earn a bachelor's or master's to become nurse practitioners.

Palliative Care Nurse Responsibilities

  • Assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with potentially terminal illnesses
  • Monitor pain and symptoms as well as provide medications and pain management
  • Advocate for patients and patient families and provide emotional support
  • Educate patients and patient families on pain and symptom management
  • Assist with mobility and daily tasks

Palliative Care Nurse Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Palliative Care Nurse?

How do you become a licensed palliative care nurse? You have options for beginning your career in palliative care nursing. There are minimum education requirements, but in most cases, you can work in palliative care immediately.

Step 1: Earn a Nursing Diploma, ADN or BSN

There is no need to choose a major in most nursing schools. Along with soft skills, nursing students take courses in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, chemistry, and other courses related to medicine.

How can you earn a palliative care nurse license? An LPN program typically only takes one year to complete. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) takes two years to complete and is the minimum degree requirement to be an RN. Aspiring nurses can also choose to earn their bachelor's in nursing (BSN). A career counselor can help guide you to make the right choice for your career goals. Degree costs depend on the program and school.

Palliative care certifications include:

  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN)
  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse (CHPPN)
  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse (CHPLN)

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) covers material nurses need to know to work safely. The test ranges from 60 to 145 questions with a time limit of five hours. The test adjusts with each correct answer, getting progressively difficult.

There is no “good score” for the NCLEX. Scoring is based on the difficulty of the questions you answer correctly. As of 2022, to pass the NCLEX-RN, you must answer correctly at least 50% of the time.

Step 3: Obtain RN Licensure

Both RNs and LPNs can work as palliative care nurses. You must pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN to be a practicing nurse.

The costs of licensing and certifications for nurses and nursing assistants vary depending on your state. For example, in Missouri, RNs pay a $55 license fee. In Texas, RN licensure fees begin at $100. In some states, CNAs do not pay for their licenses.

Step 4: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

There are no special degrees to become a palliative care nurse, though there are certifications available for those who have experience in the field.

Many nurses further their education by becoming nurse practitioners (NPs). To be a palliative care NP, you must complete a master's or doctoral program in palliative care. NPs are licensed at the national level and can practice in any state.

Nurse practitioners earn more than other forms of nursing, with a yearly median salary of $123,780 as of May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Step 5: Apply for Certification

Certifications are offered through the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center; costs are around $400. The CHPN, for example, costs $415 for initial certification. The ACHPN costs $465.

Each type of certification has its own application and fees. Each test ranges from two and a half hours to three and a half hours, depending on the type of certification. They require 500 hours of palliative care work in the previous 12 months.

What to Know Before Becoming a Palliative Care Nurse

Before you take the first steps to begin a career in palliative care nursing, you need to choose your program carefully. It is also important to consider the cost of your education to your expected salary after you land a job.

Accreditation

It is important to attend only accredited programs for nursing. You will not be able to transfer credits from an unaccredited program, you must attend an accredited institution to take the NCLEX. There are accredited online nursing programs in addition to in-person ones.

Cost

Like any degree program, you need to consider hidden costs and the true cost of a program, not just the numbers listed on their website. For example, taking the NCLEX costs $200.

The cost of nursing school varies wildly. The average tuition for a two-year degree at a public school was $3,501 per year in the 2020-21 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Meanwhile, the average tuition at public four-year institutions was $9,349 per year. Online programs may have a similar cost to on-campus programs, but they have their own costs of materials and proctored exams.

Salary

Palliative care nurses make an average salary of $72,260 per year, as reported by Payscale in June 2022. This is just above the average salary for all registered nurses, which is $68,660, according to Payscale as of June 2022.

According to Payscale, nurse practitioners earn an average yearly salary of $100,830 and can expect to earn more if they specialize in palliative care. As of May 2021, the BLS reports California and Hawaii as the two highest-paying states for registered nurses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Palliative Care Nurse

What qualifications do you need to become a palliative care nurse?

The minimum qualifications you need to become a palliative care nurse is to complete the required education for an LPN or RN and pass the NCLEX. An LPN program takes a year to complete on average. An LPN is the minimum education level to work as a nurse in most health care fields.

You can use your knowledge and experience as an LPN to finish an ADN and become an RN. While not always necessary in palliative care, you can also complete an RN-to-BSN program. Palliative care certification is available after working 500 hours within the previous six months of employment as a palliative care nurse or nurse practitioner.

What is the fastest way to become a palliative care nurse?

The fastest way to become a palliative care nurse is to complete the minimum education requirements in a practical nursing program, pass the NCLEX-PN and become an LPN. LPN programs typically take one year to complete.

LPNS work under the supervision of RNs and do not have the same responsibilities. LPNs assist patients with daily activities, insert IVs and catheters, and monitor symptoms and vitals. You do not need a degree to become an LPN; the position only requires a license earned at a trade school or community college. You can use your palliative care LPN experience and knowledge to continue your education and become an RN.

What is the difference between a palliative care nurse and a hospice nurse?

The main difference between hospice and palliative care is the end goal for the patient. Both palliative and hospice care nurses provide pain relief and comfort to patients with serious or terminal illnesses. Hospice and palliative care nurses handle patients with similar illnesses and offer support.

To be a hospice patient, doctors must determine that the patient has less than six months to live. Hospice nurses do not provide life-prolonging or curative treatments. A hospice nurse's job is to keep their patient comfortable and supported. Palliative care patients have chronic illnesses and receive treatment from palliative nurses to either cure their illness or manage their pain.

Can I become a palliative care nurse without a degree?

An ADN or BSN is required to become a registered palliative care nurse. The only level of nursing that does not require a degree is a CNA or LPN. CNA certification programs are offered at trade schools, community colleges, and state-approved medical facilities. They generally take less than a year to complete.

CNAs assist patients with daily activities and help to monitor vitals and symptoms. LPNs require a license, not a degree, and typically take a year to complete. If you hope to become an RN, you must earn at least an associate degree.

How much money can I make as a palliative care nurse?

Your average salary as a palliative care nurse depends on your education level and where you work. LPNs earned a median salary of $48,070 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. According to Payscale, palliative care nurses earned a median salary of $76,500 per year.

As of July 2022, Payscale reported that nurses with BSNs earn an average of $89,000 per year. APRNs have the highest level of patient responsibility and are the highest earners, with a median yearly salary of $123,780 according to the BLS.

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