The word “hospice” stems from the Latin word “hospitium” meaning guesthouse; it can be traced back to medieval times when it referred to a place of shelter and rest for weary or ill travelers on a long journey. The name was first applied to specialized care for dying patients by physician Dame Cicely Saunders, who began her work with the terminally ill in 1948 and eventually went on to create the first modern hospice in 1967 in a residential suburb of London.
A few years before the first hospice was established Saunders introduced the idea of specialized care for the dying to the United States during a 1963 visit with Yale University. Her lecture was given to medical students, nurses, social workers, and chaplains about the concept of holistic hospice care, of terminally ill cancer patients and their families, showing the dramatic differences before and after the symptom control care. This lecture launched the development of hospice care as we know it today. The United States hospice movement was founded by volunteers and there is continued commitment to volunteer service. The first hospice in the United States was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974. Today there are more than 5,000 hospice programs in the United States. Volunteers still play a vital role in hospice today.