Trustees’ Week: Meet Dr Sabena Y Jameel

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

This Trustees’ Week we are profiling trustees from hospices across the UK to gain insight into the incredible work that they do. Dr Sabena Y Jameel is a GP, an Associate Dean for GP Education, and is in the final year of her PhD in Phronesis/Practical Wisdom as it applies to Medicine. A trustee at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice since 2017, here she tells us why she joined their board, and offers some tips to people considering a similar role.

My mother-in-law had gall bladder cancer and spent her last days at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, where she received beautiful, respectful care from the staff. The staff did not know I was a doctor and medical educator, but they treated me very kindly too, just as they would any relative who was often around. I would spend the nights staying with my mother-in-law, until she died very peacefully in February 2016.

After this I became aware of some resistance in the South Asian community to accept hospice care. I found this astonishing as many are willing to accept hospital admissions and intervention, but not the compassionate, wise care offered in a hospice. Is this because it symbolises ‘giving up’ on someone? I was frustrated by this mindset and wanted to redress the balance.

I felt that becoming a trustee would enable me to give something back, learn more about how a charity is run, and offer insights from my knowledge as a jobbing NHS clinician, medical educator and BAME person. I wanted to raise awareness of hospice care and promote open conversations about death and dying.

Birmingham St Mary’s is my local hospice. I’ve attended educational sessions here, have referred patients to the hospice in my capacity as a GP, and have visited friends and family.

I’ve even participated in the Chocolate 5K Obstacle Rush race. I am aware of some inspirational forward-thinking people who really care about ‘living until you die’ and helping people flourish even in palliative situations. Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice have a very active research and training arm and they are national leaders in this area.

The mandatory part of a trustee’s role is attending and participating in board meetings and the HR committee meetings. The trustees are consulted on most important issues. A diverse board membership ensures that discussion is always stimulating and interesting. As a board, we are responsible for good governance and strategic direction. It seems like a big responsibility, but you contribute using your personal area of expertise. Our role is to safeguard the functions of the hospice.

I also see my role as being an ambassador for hospice care and using my position to promote conversations about what it means to have a ‘good death’ and explore the goals of medicine. Death is an inevitability, yet many people live in denial of its certainty. Discussions like this often involve disrupting the status quo by questioning what medicine is supposed to achieve.

I have really enjoyed giving talks and lectures to GP trainees, medical students and other professionals interested in end of life care. One example was when I was invited to speak about end of life care for Muslim patients at Cambridge University. I have also learnt a lot about what happens at NHS organisational board leveI, and I’ve particularly enjoyed working collaboratively with John Taylor Hospice in Birmingham. I have spoken to friends and family about the work of the hospice and in turn many have raised funds for the cause.

There are some very real financial threats to hospice care. Uncertainty in NHS funding and the challenges of maintaining charitable funding streams can be a source of anxiety, especially when it comes to long term planning.

To be honest, I have not really faced insurmountable challenges. I have really enjoyed being a trustee so far. I think most people associated with hospice care are generally very well-intentioned and as a result the shared goal brings people together in a really positive and constructive way.

To anyone considering becoming a trustee, I would say that being part of a hospice board is quite a different world to providing care on the ground. Try to connect with the ‘shop floor’ too.

It helps to be able to speed read board documents. Your thoughts and subsequently your voice are important, don’t be afraid to use them for the betterment of something you value. You don’t need big fancy professional titles to be able to make a difference – real world insights and a pragmatic approach will go far! Lastly, prepare to contribute something and to learn from others. It is as a team that you hold the organisation to account, enabling it to move forward in the best possible way.

For more information visit Birmingham St Mary’s

Trustees’ Week runs until Friday 8 November.

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