Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

How Palliative Care and Hospice Differ

Those with an MSN degree are increasingly helping patients and families decide which is right.

Quality of life matters. But for those suffering from severe illness, living well can be extremely difficult. Not only can illness inflict a patient with pain and weakness but so can the treatments for the illness. Many cancer patients, for instance, must deal with the physical toll of the disease and the harsh side effects of chemotherapy. Hospice and palliative care, however, can help patients improve their quality of life.

Both hospice and palliative care rely on medical professionals—such as nurse practitioners and other nurses with an MSN degree—to administer and monitor care designed to make patients more comfortable. But the two types of care are not the same and are designed for different types of patients. Here are the key differences between the two.

Difference in Purpose


Hospice care exists for those with a terminal illness who have months, rather than years, left to live. Care is focused on alleviating pain and helping patients prepare for the end of life. In most cases, patients cease life-prolonging treatment of their illness, particularly those treatments with harsh side effects. Instead of treating the illness, hospice nurses and other medical professionals work to ensure the patient’s physical comfort and emotional peace.


Palliative care is specifically focused on relieving the symptoms and stress of serious illness. A patient does not need to be terminal to receive palliative care. Likewise, palliative care patients often continue full treatment of their illness while in a palliative care program. In many cases, the medical team providing palliative care works directly with the medical team treating the illness.

Difference in Place


Most hospice patients undergo hospice care in their home or in the home of a loved one. Some patients choose hospice care facilities. In any case, hospice is designed to minimize medical intrusion and maximize a patient’s ability to enjoy what time he or she has left.


Most palliative care patients receive their care in a medical facility. Often, it is the same facility where they receive treatment for their illness. In addition to various methods of pain relief, patients may also receive emotional counseling and physical therapy to improve their quality of life.

Need a little help selecting the right specialization?

Take our quiz

Difference in Payment


Most hospice programs offer all-inclusive treatment as part of a set payment. However, insurance coverage of hospice can vary. Most insurance providers have specific terms for hospice and may have limits on the length of care or on the amount to be paid. Fortunately, many hospice programs are covered under Medicare.


Palliative care is most often treated like any other medical care provided. It is not all-inclusive, meaning each treatment and each prescription are usually billed separately. How much is covered depends on each insurance provider’s terms.

How Can You Work in Hospice or Palliative Care?

The world needs medical professionals capable of helping those with illness live more comfortably. One of the ways you can enter this important field is by earning a Master of Science in Nursing. Through an MSN program, you can gain the foundation of knowledge and skills you need to administer either palliative or hospice care.

You can even earn your master’s degree in nursing while continuing to work at your current job. That’s because online MSN programs remove the usual barriers to attending nursing school, allowing you to complete your coursework from home and on your schedule so that you don’t have to miss work. Some of the best master’s in nursing online programs even allow you to move directly from an RN to MSN program rather than requiring you to earn a bachelor’s degree before applying.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing can put you in position to be a leader in palliative or hospice care. It’s a great choice for anyone who wants to help others improve their quality of life during difficult times.

Walden University is an accredited institution that offers an online Master of Science in Nursing program. In fact, Walden University is the leading provider of advanced nursing degrees in the U.S., producing more MSN graduates than any other university.* Expand your career options, and earn a degree on a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

* Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP codes 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse); 51.3808 (Nursing Science); 51.3818 (Nursing Practice). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Which Specialization Is Right for You?

Click “Get Started” below to tell us a bit about your passions, interests, and skill set, and we’ll help you find the MSN specialization that best fits your goals.