A conversation with Liz Hoppe, RN BSN, Administrator of Transitions Hospice in Central Illinois, Rachelle Paolucci, RN, BSN Executive Director of Transitions Hospice Indiana and Melissa Popp, RN, CHPN, Executive Director of Transitions Hospice Illinois.

Nurses are the heartbeat of a hospice organization, taking on the role of caregiver, supporter, shoulder to cry on and so much more. At Transitions, we are fortunate to have amazing nurses working at all levels of our organization. 

In honor of  Nurses Week, we spoke with Liz Hoppe, RN BSN, Administrator of Transitions Hospice in Central Illinois, Rachelle Paolucci, RN, BSN Executive Director of Transitions Hospice Indiana and Melissa Popp, RN, CHPN, Executive Director of Transitions Hospice Illinois to get their take on Transitions, our nurses, and what the future has to offer for hospice. Below are a few highlights.

Q: What does it take to be a Transitions nurse?

We believe that the nursing team at Transitions is special, but no one said it quite like Liz when she said, “We have such a family dynamic down here in the Central Illinois regions. Our nurses hold such a heart for this job.They have true compassion and play an integral role in the hospice world. They give so much of themselves to service this company, our mission, our patients, and of course each other—every single day.” 

Melissa echoed these sentiments, focusing on the unique qualities of the Transitions nurse. She said, “Each and every one of our nurses is so unique in their own special way. We are so fortunate to have nurses with a unique skill set.” She went on further to say, “living up to the high expectations [of Transitions] is hard, but also is now second nature and ultimately what is best to ensure our patients’ and families’ comfort, dignity and peace of mind.” 

When thinking about the work of a Transitions nurse, Rachelle highlighted the commitment and dedication of our nurses to patient care when she said, “We all know that not everyone can be a Transitions nurse. I always deem us unique by encompassing dedication to be with our patients 24/7 and always going the extra mile to bring our patients and families joy.”

It’s true, our nurses are unique, and it takes a lot to be a Transitions nurse. Melissa believes that it takes “commitment, doing the right thing, recognizing every patient is unique—simply following our commandments.” Liz elaborated further saying, “it takes ability to connect with patients. Caring for patients involves so much more than just caring for their physical wellbeing. It involves putting the patient first, and doing what is best for them. It takes compassion. Our nurses have such a spirit that carries and extends beyond just the patient to their co-workers as well. It takes selflessness, giving so much of themselves to others every single day. It takes trust. But most of all, hospice nursing truly is a calling. When looking at our nurses, we always want to find someone who fits best within our Transitions family. I find that everyone here knows in their heart that it isn’t just a job, it’s our life, our calling, and we truly can’t imagine doing anything else—especially on the hard days.”

Rachelle’s outlook on their team’s work is very similar to that of her colleagues. “Watching our nurses in action is absolutely incredible.” she said. “The empathy, humility, and attention to detail that they each encompass delivers unique, top notch care,” she continued.

Melissa Popp donning PPE to get ready to help out in the field. No matter what role our leaders play in the company, they’re always available to “roll up their sleeves” and help the team.

Q: Why did you join Transitions and what would you tell others that are considering a career hospice nursing?

When asked why she chose Transitions, Liz said, “I joined the Transitions team nearly three years ago, right out of nursing school. It was the best decision. They always say that you need to come out of nursing school and go into the hospital, yet I have become a better nurse by working with this company. The mission and values have stuck with me ever since I began my career. The family dynamic is one of my favorite reasons that I stay as well. I truly feel I have gotten to flourish as a nurse here.” For Rachelle, her drive behind joining the Transitions team included being part of an organization where commitment and teamwork are highly embraced. She mentioned, “I joined Transitions because I always felt something missing elsewhere. Our commitment to never let a patient die alone makes the difference for a peaceful passing.” Melissa had a similar story from her time in nursing school. “Honestly, I was scared to death of death but was encouraged by two of my nursing school friends to join the team. I was not interested in hospice and really was ignorant to hospice overall. It literally took a push just to meet Jim (Palazzo) and a friend saying she thought I would be good here and love what Transitions does. I’m now approaching 8 years with Transitions, so the rest is history.”

As nurse leaders at Transitions, Melissa, Rachelle and Liz show their servant-leadership skills frequently, working directly with our new nurses joining the team out in the field. Many of these new nurses, like themselves at the beginning of their careers, have little or no hospice experience. Their years at Transitions have provided incredible insight, and each had their own words of wisdom for nurses who are considering hospice for their career path. 

Melissa, speaking from personal experience, said “hospice is not for everyone, but it is truly an honor as a nurse and hospice provider to experience the trust our patients and families have in our teams time and time again. If you are willing to commit to patients in a great time of need, I believe it’s an honor to share the experience with the patient and the family involved.” 

Liz mirrored her advice to a similar vein. “Hospice truly is a calling. You tend to fall in love with hospice. As a nurse, you expand your nursing knowledge ten-fold by understanding the body as it is declining. You understand how to treat someone when all the organs are failing. You learn how to critically think and discover the resources around you in comparison to having them at your fingertips in a hospital setting. You develop true autonomy. On another note, you get to work with some of the most vulnerable patients and families. It allows you to emotionally connect so much deeper than any other nursing career I have ever been in. You have time to develop rapport with your patients, families, and communities. I know that hospice is the unknown sometimes, and most people say, ‘I could never do that.’ Honestly, it’s what I look forward to every single day. When people ask me how I do it, and I couldn’t imagine NOT doing this every day.”

Rachelle shared a similar perspective to her colleagues, highlighting the great value behind the work, explaining, “Hospice work is a calling, not a choice. If you feel called to be here, then take the chance. I feel you will never want to work elsewhere once you take the leap.” 

Liz Hoppe doing a visit in one of our communities, reminding the staff that no matter how far you get promoted, she’s still a hospice nurse at heart!

Q: What is your focus/what are you excited about for the rest of 2021?

With these nurses helping to lead the future of Transitions, we can only see positive changes coming down the line. Liz mentioned that she is excited about the growth and change she sees coming in the future for Transitions. “Being with this company for three years has given me so much insight on how quickly we have grown and shown that the changes we have made are making a positive impact on the company. We not only work for the patients, but we work for the employees to make changes for them as well.”  Rachelle is looking forward to participating in specialized care for veterans, “This will allow us to best care for our veteran patients knowing the challenge they have been individually faced with in their military career,” she shared.

Melissa is specifically excited about some of the technological implementations taking place at Transitions, including the successful implementation of Homecare Homebase, our new electronic medical record system, as well as getting back to the basics in a world of normal as we move forward through the COVID19 pandemic. “I’m looking forward to a new way of healthcare that provides even more access and continues the excellent, comprehensive care for both our patients and those that love them most”.

Liz, Rachelle, and Melissa, we couldn’t agree with you more! The future of Transitions, and nursing, is bright. To all of our nurses at Transitions, and nurses everywhere, Happy Nurses Week from all of us at Transitions Hospice.