Theresa Barker, Head of Education and Training at St Giles Hospice in Lichfield, Staffordshire, has a career in hospice nursing spanning 35 years. Along with her team of four she is responsible for delivering training and development to staff, volunteers, health and social care professionals, and students as young as 13. Here she explains how starting a hospice education programme with young people is helping St Giles grow awareness, dispel myths about end of life care and form lasting partnerships.
“There can be a real anxiety about coming into a hospice as people often do not know what to expect and can be a little fearful” Theresa says about the common perception of hospice care.
“Opening the doors to students gives us the opportunity to showcase the wide range of job roles and volunteering opportunities which are available in the hospice and it also helps to take away some of that fear, not just for them but for the families and communities they go back and share their experiences with.”
St Giles has run an annual summer school for the last six years for 16-18 year olds, as well as offering enrichment days for local schools.
“The beauty of the summer school is that the young people involved are our potential workforce of the future as well as our supporters, fundraisers and volunteers” Theresa says.
“From the outset they are immersed in hospice life, taking part in mini placements in everything from occupational therapy and shops to the ward reception and fundraising.
“And because we want them to really understand the work experience, all of the 15 students we take have to complete an application form and are interviewed to see if they will be accepted onto the course.”
The summer school includes a range of speakers from across the hospice, as well as partners including local care homes, children’s hospices and even Beth Woodward, a former summer school student who has gone on to train as a doctor.
“It is great to welcome Beth back to St Giles as she can give students her experience of the summer school and how that helped in applying for university.
“And the range of speakers clearly demonstrates the variety of roles available in care, as well as giving the students involved very practical advice and information about their professional development.”
The hospice also holds an enrichment day every year, working with local school students from Year 9 and 10. This year saw around 50 students attending with their teachers, taking part in a carousel of activities including dementia awareness training, teamwork sessions, information on occupational therapy and a session on clinical observations.
“The students gave fantastic feedback for all of the sessions, but were also really surprised at what the hospice was actually like. Before they arrived, they said they were expecting the hospice to be sad, dark and like a hospital where people go to die” Theresa explains.
“After their visit they described it as calm, bright and peaceful with a team of staff and volunteers who make it a positive place to be – which is just the message we want people in the community to know.”
The benefits of the education programme at St Giles reaches beyond volunteering and recruitment throughout the organisation and the wider community, according to Theresa.
“The education programme has strengthened our relationship with schools and raised awareness of the work we do supporting bereaved young people through [bereavement service] Phoenix.
“It has also created opportunities for fundraising and community engagement work in schools and raised awareness about the roles involved in healthcare.
“But perhaps the most valuable work it does is when you hear students have gone home and shared their experiences and in some cases even started a conversation around the tea table about advance care planning.
“That is an incredibly powerful change and we are really proud to be the instigators of it.”
For more information visit St Giles Hospice