An interview with Dr Qamar Abbas

Published on: Tuesday 25 Oct 2016 at 14:22

Our Medical Director reflects on 20 years at St Clare…

With over 20 years of experience in medicine and specialist palliative care Qamar, St Clare’s Medical Director, has provided a wealth of experience, passion and a warm heart to the clinical team since 2000.

On reaching his 20th year at St Clare Hospice, Qamar looks back on the changes he has seen at the Hospice over the years – the highlights of his time so far, and his hopes for the future of the Hospice he loves…

Q: What was your background before you came to St Clare?

“I originally come from Pakistan and so my undergraduate training was at Dow Medical College. I graduated in 1993 and came to the UK in 1995 when I started training in General Medicine and worked there until 1999.

“It was in 1999 that I decided to gain more experience in palliative care so I undertook a 6 month placement at a hospice. It had always been my plan to go back to General Medicine and to specialise in Cardiology, but after just 6 months working in a hospice I knew that was the path I wanted to take.

“When St Clare announced they would be opening an Inpatient Unit at the Hospice in January 2000, and were looking for doctors, I decided to apply. I was delighted when they appointed me to run the unit. With the support from the team the hospice grew from 4 beds in January, to 8 beds by April 2000.

“I started at St Clare Hospice in February 2000 but first came to the Hospice in the first week of the new millennium for a team building week. This was a cross-hospice team building exercise and even now I still remember the people who were there.”

Q: What does your role as Medical Director involve?

“My role at the Hospice is a Medical Director and Consultant to the ward round in the Inpatient Unit at St Clare, and also a consultant in the Princess Alexandra Hospital. My passion is seeing the patients and my consultancy work keeps me ticking over in this respect.

“The role of Medical Director is fascinating as I get to contribute to other activities across the Hospice including the work of our facilities and income generation team. In this role I work closely with all of the clinical teams in the Hospice and I also undertake mentoring to help others learn from my experience.

“We also work hard to contribute towards the education of healthcare professionals across our community in West Essex and East Herts – helping to train local district nurses, GPs and hospital staff in palliative care. We have a GP trainee at all times, who is trained and then rotated after six months. We have 44 GP surgeries in our area, so our team have to work really hard to continue this ongoing development and knowledge sharing across the sector.

“As part of my role, I’ve also been leading on education for the Hospice and in the last year I arranged two study days; one about lung cancer and another about Faith at the End of Life. This year five study days have been organised, covering topics such as oncology, bereavement and end of life care.

“Partnership working is incredibly important to me and more recently I’ve been building relationships with local universities, helping to ensure that our future medical professionals are developing skills in palliative care as they train in their chosen professions. So far we have great relationships with Anglia Ruskin, St Bartholomew Hospital and I am Senior Clinical Tutor at the University of Cambridge as well as a trainer for junior doctors and an appraiser for the General Medical Council. In 2018 St Clare Hospice was officially designated as a University of Cambridge Teaching Hospice, a partnership I am very proud of; I consider this to be one of my greatest achievements so far at St Clare.”

“I am also leading on our contribution to the discussions around organ donation; with the law around organ donation changing in England in 2020, it’s really important that we are able to talk with confidence to our patients and their family members about these changes and why they are important.

“I’ve also been developing a relationship with the National Institute for Health Research to help support our involvement in research into palliative care. Most recently we’ve now gained access to a NIHR (National Institute for Health research) nurse to help our involvement in research, collecting our relevant data when we are involved in studies.

“The cross-departmental working is a welcome element of my role; more recently I’ve been working with the Income Generation team to help them build confidence around talking to relatives of patients.”

Q: What does it feel like to be part of the clinical team at St Clare?

“The team at St Clare is a fantastic group of people to be part of. No matter where you work, you won’t find friends like I have made here. One thing I’m very proud of here at St Clare is the very egalitarian culture. I’m sure if you go to the Inpatient Unit and speak to my clinical colleagues, they would all say that everybody is equal in this team – from the social workers and nursing assistants, to the juniors and trainees. In palliative care, everybody has their own experiences, and everybody can learn and become wiser to listening to other people’s experiences. That is what I have learnt from being part of this wonderful team.”

Q: What do you like about your job?

“I take great pride in people seeing me as a team member. It’s very humbling to see the skills and expertise across the Hospice in the different areas that my colleagues work in.

“My passion is patient care and this is why continuing to work as a consultant is so important to me, alongside my Medical Director work. I am also passionate about building confidence, expertise and skill for myself and within the team.”

“When you work at St Clare, you witness all aspects of life. You see funny moments, you see terribly sad moments; you see families coming together, and you see families falling apart. You see parents pulling their children close to them, and you see others distancing themselves from their children.

“Being part of this, and having people share these personal moments with you, is an immense privilege. No matter how many years I work in a Hospice, it will always remain a privilege. Each moment has been a highlight of my time at St Clare – I could never just choose one. Every single day has a highlight for me – because every single day people are sharing their lives with me. And I just feel so privileged.”

Q: What changes have you seen during the last 20 years?

“The Hospice has evolved over time. Change is constant in all areas of life, so when change comes it doesn’t surprise me. I see change as an opportunity; I have a responsibility to make the change happen, rather than let it happen to me. When you are part of the change it doesn’t feel like change; it is just one step forward after another.

“When I joined St Clare back in 2000 I was the only doctor and we had less than 50 staff in total. We now have 5 doctors, more than 170 staff and over 550 volunteers. We cared for around 350 patients a year in 2000 and now we support more than 1,500 people annually, and offer support services to an additional 500 family and friends.

“A significant development in recent years has been the creation of our community service and Hospice at Home team. The growth of the community team means we now care for three times as many people in their own homes as we care for in our inpatient unit.”

Q: What are you most proud of during your time at St Clare?

“It’s hard to pick out specific things that stand out during my time at the Hospice, but I am truly proud of the expansion of St Clare’s services over the last 20 years – we’re now able to help people in their homes and we are reaching people within our local community.

“I’m also very proud of being able to contribute to professionals’ training, having developed such close liaison with universities, conducting research at the Hospice and creating strong and lasting partnerships with other providers and commissioners.

“On a personal note, one of the best things I’ve done in my life, was my trek to Cambodia last year to raise funds for St Clare Hospice.

“I joined other St Clare supporters on a five-day trek through Cambodia, which lies in the heart of old Indochina; home to dazzling green rice-paddies and jungles dotted with temples and ruins, villages of thatched stilted houses, and small towns where Buddhist temples nestle amongst graceful French colonial buildings.

“St Clare Hospice has been my biggest passion since I joined the organisation almost 20 years ago. Taking on this challenging trek was my way of helping to bring different hospice departments together, to support each other. And I’m so glad I did it!

“To be honest, I hadn’t prepared for it as much as I could have, which is why on the third day, it was very nerve-wracking to be told we would climb 3,000m up Mount Kulen – I thought it was all on the flat! It was so hot and humid and I had so many blisters! The moment that they announced that we had reached the top of the mountain was amazing. My medal from the trek is one of my most treasured possessions!

“Our group had become such a close-knit bunch and everyone supported each other. I found out about other people’ inspirations for taking on the trek, and that was humbling. This has been the most exhilarating experience of my life! I have done other ‘adventure’ challenges, but this was totally different and very difficult. But I feel proud that I did this for the job that I love so much. Having the patients and families I’ve supported in the back of my mind was a great inspiration for me and I hope people saw my passion for palliative care and for St Clare Hospice.”

Q: How has St Clare helped you to develop as a person?

“When I started at St Clare I had just turned 30, my first son was 2 years old and my wife was pregnant. My second son is now taller than me – which is an amazing feeling! The best thing that St Clare has taught me, personally, is to appreciate my own family. So being at St Clare has helped me to develop as a father, a husband and as a person, as well as a doctor.”

“When you come here and you see certain situations, you go back home and spend time with your wife and children and really appreciate just being with them. My job here has given me a different perspective of my own life and my own family. Hopefully working here has also contributed to my family’s growth as well. I could not do my job without their support.”

Q: What do you see as being the challenges for the future?

“In order to reach more people in our local community we need to look at how we support people with specific conditions, such as dementia, learning disability and cardiovascular diseases; by tapering our services to support people with more complex health conditions we will ensure that we can meet the needs of all in our local community who are facing death or dying.

“I’m passionate about the Hospice; we must be passionate because, no matter how well we have done, if we want to achieve a good end we need to commit to making everyone’s death good. We all need to work together for this, sharing our skills and ideas to make things better for everyone.

“Hospice care is everyone’s problem; we must all contribute – young and old – and the earlier we get people involved in planning and preparing for death, not just their own but that of those they love, the better the outcome will be for everyone.”


Find out more about our Clinical Team here.

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