An important but less discussed area of health care is devoted to helping patients as they approach the end of their lives. It is just one of many areas that employ registered nurses, by far the most sought-after professionals in Maine.

Diane La Rochelle, a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, has spent the past three years as a home hospice nurse for Hospice of Southern Maine in Scarborough. She becomes a trusted house guest to terminally ill patients and their families.

“The patient defines how they want to live the rest of their life after getting a terminal diagnosis, and we help them achieve that,” La Rochelle said.

Some patients want to be as alert as possible even if it means dealing with added pain and discomfort, she said. Others want to be as comfortable as possible, even if it makes them feel more drowsy. Good hospice care is about honoring the patient’s wishes.

Some terminal patients’ health care needs are so intensive that they must be admitted to a facility such as Hospice of Southern Maine’s Gosnell Memorial Hospice House, but whenever possible, they receive their care at home.

“The majority of our patients, their goal is for end of life to occur at their home, surrounded by their loved ones,” La Rochelle said.

Being a hospice nurse can be difficult emotionally, La Rochelle said, but Hospice of Southern Maine uses a team-oriented system in which no care giver is required go it alone at any time. Teams include nurses, social workers, chaplains and home health aides, she said.

La Rochelle said she thinks every nurse should do a rotation in hospice, if for no other reason than to gain an understanding of its importance in the health care field. She said the experience has changed her life in a positive way.

“It has taught me to live in the moment, and to take care of myself, to not take life for granted,” La Rochelle said.