Over the course of her career with hospices, Alison Kempthorne had been used to having difficult conversations with patients and their families. But after a spell of long-term sick leave, she experienced a lack of confidence when she returned to work.
Thanks to a bursary for hospice staff funded by Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Alison got back on track. She explains how it’s made an impact on her life and on the people around her.
Finding out about the grants
“I’d come back to work part-time in December 2021 and because I’d been really ill beforehand, it was quite a challenge. The first time I met a relative who was quite distressed, I wasn’t sure that I’d said the right things – even though I’d already done the Advanced Communications course about 10 years ago.”
Going back into training
It’s often difficult to go back into training after a long spell in the workplace. This was the case for Alison, who felt apprehensive, but says that she knew it would be worth it.
“I think most people that you talk to are worried about doing the Advanced Communication course because there is group work where you have to put yourself out there,” explains Alison.
But there was little to worry about: the facilitators were “really good”. During group work they arranged for her to work in different groups to people that she was managing, which Alison describes as reassuring.
Outcomes and innovation
For Alison, doing the MCF-funded training gave her the confidence to believe that she could take her career further: “it gave me the belief that there was some work left in me!”
“Afterwards, I went on to do the Professional Nurse Advocate (PNA) course (see an NHS definition of a PNA). But I don’t think I would have put myself forward for that without first having put myself in the classroom with other people.
Alison says that Professional Nurse Advocates seem to be rare: “so far, I haven’t actually found any hospices that have them. So without that training, our hospice wouldn’t have had one either.
“Now what we’re introducing here [at St Clare Hospice] is going to support a lot more nurses in the future. And they will be able to deliver better care and support to patients and their families because of that.
“Developing my communication skills has enabled me to do real work on staff well-being and offer restorative clinical supervision.”
She explains that it feels reassuring that by developing those skills, it’s allowed people to feel heard: “I think that really helps patients, families and staff. People like to be listened to.”
“The funding gave me back my confidence….I believe all education and development is valuable. So I would encourage people to take opportunities wherever they can.”
Working life – without the funding
We asked Alison what she thought her life would have been like if she hadn’t taken up the MCF bursary:
“Without the funding, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to get my confidence back. Actually I might not have even stayed. When I first came back to work I thought, “I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”
“So [the training] came at the right time for me. It definitely helped me get back into working and feel confident about being able to make a difference for people.”
The importance of investing in yourself
In the face of challenging financial times for hospices, it might be tempting to simply focus on delivery and cost efficiency. But Alison suggests that there are plenty of opportunities out there – and now is a great time to look for them:
“If your organisation can’t fund those opportunities it’s worth looking outside of where you work.
“It’s your last chance to get it right when you’re working with people at the end of their life. The more development you can get your hands on will be better for the patients and families. Happy staff make happy families and patients.
“By investing in yourself with training like this, it’s likely to reduce bereavement costs: mental health and illness. It’s about looking at the bigger picture.”
Highly rewarding: working in end of life care
For any health care professionals thinking about working in in end of life care, Alison recommends considering the sector. She explains that there are some highly rewarding chances to develop your skills and to use them:
“There are grants and other training available – you don’t have to come ready packaged. You will be invested in, and there are career pathways.
“You also get more time to actually listen to people. If you can get that last thing right – for instance they want to die at home and you make sure the support is there – not only did they get their last wish, but the family will know that they got what they wanted.”
Alison Kempthorne is Head of Community Services at St. Clare Hospice in Essex. Thank you to Alison for sharing her story.