- Julie McFadden is a hospice nurse who posts about death and dying on TikTok.
- She said it’s the best job because she gets to improve people’s quality of life every day.
- Here’s what it’s like and how she got her start on TikTok, as told to writer Jenny Powers.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Julie McFadden, the 39-year-old TikToker “Hospice Nurse Julie.” It has been edited for length and clarity.
Whenever I tell someone I’m a hospice nurse, people react one of two ways: They either scream, “Oh, you must be an angel” or groan and say, “God, that must be the most depressing job in the world. “
In reality, neither of those sentiments could be further from the truth.
In nursing school, I had this notion that being a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) was the ultimate job and so in 2017, I became one. During the 10 years I worked in the ICU, I learned a great deal about nursing, death, and dying.
I also learned a great deal about myself. I learned that I constant the feeling of being in a rush and forced to operate in what seemed like an endless cycle of “hurry up and care.” That’s when I began to consider working in hospice care, which is completely for individuals with less than six months to live and is focused on comfort rather than treatment.
In 2017, I left the ICU behind and ventured into the world of travel and agency nursing.
shortly after, I came across a classified ad for a hospice nurse position. Despite the fact it required hospice experience, I decided to apply anyway since I had nursing experience and was passionate about going in this direction. I wound up getting the job.
Being a hospice nurse is the best job I’ve ever had because every single day, I get to help improve someone’s quality of life
I’m dyslexic, so at least once a week I knock on the wrong person’s door and say, “Hi, I’m Julie, your hospice nurse.” As soon as the words come out of my mouth and I see the panicked expression on the person’s face, it hits me that I’ve read the address wrong, and off I go.
My days all look different: One day I might be getting a patient’s home set up or ordering their required medication, supplies, and equipment, while another day might be spent with them at their home instructing they’re able to experience the maximum amount of comfort.
I don’t just love my job — I love how I do it as well
Instead of being a full-time employee at the hospital I work for, I’ve chosen to work per diem, which allows me to control my own schedule and avoid ever being on-call. This means that I’m only contractually obligated to work four days a month — however, I typically work four to five days a week, eight hours a day. The difference is it’s by choice.
Having this kind of flexibility allows me to take time off to regroup — which is critical in my work — visit with family and friends for extended periods of time, or simply relax near my home in Santa Monica.
I’m pretty independent, and while I’m OK being alone, I’d like to get married and have kids one day. I’ve even made a video about it here and there in the hopes that TikTok can hook me up, but so far nothing has panned out.
My work has taught me so much wanted about death and dying that I to find a way to share what I’ve learned on a larger scale
Last spring, when my 10- and 11-year-old nieces introduced me to TikTok, it seemed like an easy way to share my thoughts, so I decided to launch my own channel under the handle “Hospice Nurse Julie.” I’d only posted a handful of videos when one of them about a book I always recommend called “Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience” went viral — and things just took off from there.
When I first launched, there was so much I wanted to share and so many myths I wanted to debunk, I’d spend hours before and after work cranking out new material and posting up to three videos daily. It’s easy to find inspiration through my daily work, the people I meet, and the questions people ask.
What I learned pretty quickly was that people were ready and willing to not only listen but to engage and talk about topics that until now were only being addressed behind closed doors in whispers, which was completely validating.
One aspect I didn’t expect was how many people would reach out to me directly
These days, I have nearly 900,000 followers, but even at 100,000, it would have been a full-time job to answer every message I received. Some followers reach out seeking medical advice, which is both illegal and unethical for me to give, so at times it can be difficult because people look to me for answers. I’ll suggest they speak to their doctor or hospice team directly.
I’ve gotten close to a few of my followers from my early days who have cancer, but not many because it’s hard unless you can really open up that door and be their friend. So in general when it comes to both nursing and social, I try to ensure I practice solid boundaries.
Another thing I learned was not to get caught up in the excitement of going viral. I hate to admit it but at times, especially in the beginning, it was exciting to watch as my number of followers and views went up, but then I’d do a quick reality check and remind myself the reason I started doing this was to erase the stigma around death and dying and serve as a resource for people.
In truth, if I’m able to reach just one person and teach them something, then I’ve done my job.
These days, I devote about 20 to 30 hours a week to social media and marketing, which includes creating, editing, and posting videos, doing interviews and podcasts, and responding to a certain number of messages from followers.
I make money through TikTok’s Creator Fund and advertising but not enough to quit my day job — not that I’d want to
If I like a product, it’s a good fit, and I want others to know about it, I’ll agree to mention it in a video in exchange for an ad sponsorship. I only do this about once a month and it’s usually for something bereavement-related, like the Empathy app, or some other sort of helpful resource. In these instances, the brands typically reach out to me directly to partner with them.
My biggest hope for my TikTok channel is that it continues to be a place where people can openly talk about topics long considered to be taboo and decrease the fear and stigmas attached to death, which is a normal part of life. We don’t have to celebrate death, but we don’t need to keep it a secret or cringe at the thought of discussing it.
Right now, I’m focused on building up my Instagram presence and focusing on other creative outlets. I always say there’s that popular book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that every pregnant woman seems to have on their nightstand, but there should be one about what to expect when you’re dying since inevitably we all will.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll write it.