Community Hospice Nurses' Perspectives on Needs, Preferences, and Challenges Related to Caring for Children With Serious Illness


Importance: Many of the 50 000 children who die annually are eligible for provision of community-based hospice care, yet few hospice organizations offer formal pediatric services. Population-level data demonstrate that hospice nurses lack training, experience, and comfort in caring for children, but their specific educational needs and preferences are poorly understood. Objective: To assess the pediatric-specific training and support needs of hospice nurses caring for children in the community. Design, Setting, and Participants: For this qualitative study, 41 nurses were purposively seletected from a population-level cohort of 551 hospice nurses who completed a previous mixed-methods survey; these 41 nurses participated in semistructured interviews between February and April 2019. Hospice nurses were recruited from all accredited hospice organizations in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas that offer care to pediatric patients. Content analysis of interview transcripts was conducted. Main Outcomes and Measures: The interview guide probed for topics related to prior pediatric hospice training experiences, desires and preferences for training, and perceived barriers to training. Results: Interviews were conducted with 41 nurses representing different geographic regions and levels of comfort with pediatric hospice provision (as self-reported in the prior survey). Thirty-eight of the nurses were women (92.7%), with a median age of 40-49 years (range, 20-29 to ≥60 years) and median tenure of 5-9 years (range, <1 to ≥20 years) as a hospice nurse. Respondents included 1 American Indian or Alaska Native nurse (2.4%), 1 Black nurse (2.4%), and 39 White nurses (95.1%). Across interviews, most hospice nurses reported feeling uncomfortable caring for children with serious illness, and all nurses used language to express the immediacy behind the need for pediatric-specific training and support. Nurses explained why further training and support are needed and clear preferences for who should provide the education, educational modalities, and specific training topics. Nurses also articulated barriers to training and support opportunities and proposed innovative suggestions for overcoming these challenges. Notably, nurses emphasized the need for connection with experts, a sense of community, and solidarity to support frontline clinicians providing end-of-life care to children in the community. Conclusions and Relevance: In this qualitative study, community hospice nurses expressed an urgent need for improvements in pediatric-specific training opportunities and support, clear preferences for how education should be provided, and recommendations for circumventing barriers to training. These findings are a call to action for the palliative care community to collaborate in rapid implementation of educational programs and networks to systematically support hospice nurses caring for children in the community.

Publication Title

JAMA network open