Many people employed by St Christopher’s join the workforce as a result of a personal experience of loss or because they want to reinforce an approach that they have witnessed as valuable in the lives and deaths of people close to them.
Once in post, staff report a high value placed on their expertise, whether inherent or learnt. There are repeated stories of individuals being recognised as experts in a particular aspect of care, then being offered new and extraordinary opportunities for personal and professional development to advance these further.
This was not simply about serving the hospice; some were encouraged to learn prior to leaving the hospice to advance care elsewhere, for example in hospitals or care homes. Individuals tell stories also of new openings within the workforce that allowed them to pursue areas of particular interest or talent.
The result is that people have stayed as part of the hospice workforce for many years.
A high number of Individuals describe involvement in the hospice for as many as 20 or 30-plus years of their lives. The value they place on their experience of working as part of a community is a repeated theme for their length of service.
Staff describe a variety of opportunities to contribute to the community including volunteering, participating in activities such as a choir and more.
Those from the early days of the hospice describe a community quite informal rather than institutional. There are stories about how staff cared for the relatives of colleagues, sat with them in their breaks and similar, receiving gifts in return.
These reciprocal, unofficial offers of friendship and companionship as part of working life were highly valued by those who participated in them.
There is a notable number of staff who have come and gone from the hospice on a number of occasions in their career. Their commitment to the organisation and the opportunities it affords them to advance their learning are two reasons cited repeatedly.
For those that return, there is opportunity to witness and participate in holistic care at its best. Parity provided to different professional groups is also cited as a reason for return.
In the early days, stories abound of individuals invited to work at St Christopher’s having worked with Cicely Saunders in other settings. They were recognised as bringing the commitment and values supportive of the original vision for the hospice.
People who have worked for the hospice across the years describe sustained efforts to support hospice and palliative care even when they retire or relocate.
Their commitment to the cause ignited at St Christopher’s is enduring. Many pursue voluntary positions as trustees or similar as part of an ambition to perpetuate an experience of service to a better society.
The ask, and indeed offer, of many of those who work on behalf of St Christopher’s is of going the extra mile. Staff describe being asked to act outside of their job description and of the pleasure they took in doing so.
Putting out the bins for Cicely Saunders on a visit to her home to drop off some papers is a notable historical example. More recently, many recall the demands made on them during the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts made by all involved in St Christopher’s to respond to the needs of those dying at this time, regardless of its stresses.
Their ability to respond in a flexible and humane way, for example by providing a responsive telephone service and keeping the hospice open to visitors for those who were dying, is part of the pride they feel as they reflect on this difficult time.
Some staff talk of being asked explicitly to go and work in other hospices, particularly those struggling at a particular time. One doctor describes moving between a number of different hospices at the request of the hospice leadership team in the belief that it was important to share the expertise.
The importance of an experience of inclusivity within the workforce was raised by some staff who told their story. It would seem from the oral histories that this is still work in progress. Some staff feel that efforts to diversify the workforce and those who access care at St Christopher’s continues to need investment. Others feel that the organisation is moving in the right direction.
Those working in the hospice today report that leadership at the hospice in recent years has given more attention to staff needs then previously – an important shift to ensuring long-term sustainability of the hospice.
People are still predominantly here because of a will to do good. That feels really strong. I haven’t felt that in other places that I’ve worked
Nigel Dodds Former Consultant Nurse, St Christopher’s Hospice
What I love most about the organisation is the fun, laughter and joy experienced whilst working at St Christopher’s, combined with its inevitable sad moments
Lorna Malcolm Former Physiotherapist, St Christopher’s Hospice
This is the eighth in our serialisation of “Back to the Future – Reflections on an Oral History of St Christopher’s Hospice”
Part I – Introduction
Part II – Being Prepared to be Radical
Part III – Responding to the Experience of Suffering
Part IV – Supporting Innovation
Part V – Hospice as a Way of Life
Part VI – Building and Nurturing Relationships
Part VII – Being True to the Founding Values