Date published: Friday 24th May 2019 | 14:45 GMT
My name is Theo, and I am 17 years old. I applied for the Young Ambassadors project at St Clare right after my GCSE’s. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about patient care; to witness first-hand the way nurses and doctors work together to care for patients, to improve their comfort and happiness during their stay on the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit.
I am currently studying Biology, Chemistry, Maths and French at A Level, and I aspire to study Medicine at University. Part of the reason why I applied for the Young Ambassadors Project was to enhance my CV and help me write my personal statement on my university application.
However, although I knew this project would ‘look good on paper,’ the actuality of taking part was so much better than I’d ever expected.
My first day
When I first arrived at the Hospice for my interview as a Young Ambassador, my immediate reaction to the environment was surprise.
If I had not seen the signs outside the building that said ‘St Clare Hospice,’ I would have thought I was in the wrong place and that I was lost, due to be late for an interview which was quite important!
The moment I arrived, I felt beckoned by a warm atmosphere which calmed my nerves substantially. The staff gave me a tour of the centre, bringing me to the St Clare Inpatient Unit where I would be volunteering over the next 9 months.
I stepped into the Unit and saw the sofas, arranged underneath a large skylight, with nurses and volunteers walking around with smiles on their faces. Although I was nervous at that time, I could see myself enjoying working at St Clare due to the people that surrounded me.
First half-term at St Clare
For my first half-term at the Hospice, I worked with volunteers; learning the ropes and helping out in every way I could.
In one of my very first shifts, I got into a conversation with a patient about how she was struggling to sleep well. I have very little knowledge of drugs that could help, but I suggested a smartphone app that produces white noise, that I’d used myself before to aid sleep.
I then learnt that this patient really liked David Tennant’s voice, so I introduced her to the world of YouTube, where you can find basically any video or audiobook online! She found a book narrated by David Tennant which she really enjoyed.
A few weeks later, I helped another patient by putting his sons’ phone numbers into his phone, and showing him how he would go about calling them.
These may have seemed like such simple things, but they made my day as I had helped somebody else, and made others’ lives more comfortable.
During my second half-term I shadowed the Nursing Assistants on the Inpatient Unit, learning about their roles. This stage was a step up from what I did in my first half-term.
I learned more about the drugs a hospice can offer to patients, confidentiality, infection prevention and so much more.
I realised just how strict the regulations were surrounding cleanliness! Pieces of equipment need signatures on them from the member of staff who cleaned it, for example! All of these small things help to make sure the Hospice works more effectively, enabling it to run more smoothly.
My third half-term was by far the most interesting. I had many conversations with different nurses. We spoke a lot about Hospice at Home and the different experiences it gave both the nurse and the patient, compared to when somebody comes to stay on the Inpatient Unit.
Sitting through the multidisciplinary team meetings and the handover meetings really was incredible… Listening to the communication going on between the staff about the patients was incredibly impressive.
I learned about how different hospice teams all worked together to support patients holistically throughout their stay. It made me feel even more passionate about one day being in a similar position as those staff, where I, too, can help others live, and die, better.
More than ‘a bed on a ward’…
A memory that stuck with me very closely is of a nurse always humming and singing as she went about her job. Although it may seem like such a tiny thing, I felt as if it would be calming for the people staying on the Unit; reassuring them that a Hospice isn’t a gloomy and sad place, but a place of support where people are encouraged to make the most of every moment.
During my time at St Clare, I realised just how much the nurses work to improve the comfort of their patients. They go above and beyond to support people to their best ability. I admired their strength when they would sometimes need to explain to patients and their families that they are dying, and may not live for much longer.
Everyone from the nurses and doctors, to chefs and volunteers, help to improve the quality of life for every person that arrives at St Clare. Nothing is too much to ask, with everyone working together to overcome issues of all kinds, including things like language barriers and tricky scenarios, or occasions where a patient may require immediate attention.
Spending time with patients
The Inpatient Unit has eight rooms for patients, so every week I would spend time with eight different people, supporting them in various ways. This was absolutely amazing, as I met such interesting people who were keen to share stories from their life with me! I always found something in common with people. I could have stayed for hours longer than my 6am to 8pm shifts, chatting away. The conversations ranged from something as simple as food, to sailing, to a son studying microbiology, and, of course, the weather – not to mention Brexit!
Once a Young Ambassador, always a Young Ambassador!
The word hospice carries a certain stigma along with it. People expect them to be dark and dreary, all about death and dying, and full of sadness all of the time.
I can tell you that these are myths that I wish would be totally debunked, for good!
My experience of St Clare showed me that it is a wonderfully warm and homely environment to be in. The furniture reminds you of what you’d expect to see in anybody’s home, not a hospital, and it is all about life and living. The support hospices offer also extends to friends and family of all those affected by a life-limiting illnesses, which I saw meant so much to both patients and their relatives.
How Young Ambassadors helped me
Although 16/17 is a very young age to start working in a hospice (and everybody was surprised to see such a young face in the Unit!), it greatly benefited me.
One of the most profound things I learned how to cope with was being around death and dying. Although a Hospice is all about life and living; people do die on the Inpatient Unit, and it was a privilege to have met many people who did pass away during my placement.
Often, I would get to know someone one week, but they wouldn’t be there the next… It is a very sad thing, which nobody can deny, but from my experience it seems like St Clare supports people approaching the end of their lives better than anywhere else.
There is always somebody to help support you at St Clare – not only for patients, visitors and families, but for me, too! The teams really look after each other. If I felt upset at any time, I knew I could talk to a nurse or a volunteer and they would always have time for me. I can only put this down to the quality of the people employed by the Hospice.
Each day at St Clare, I would come home after my shift at the Hospice feeling content with myself. It was as if every day I was there, I had done a very good deed, and made somebody else’s day better.
I am so glad I made the choice to apply to be a Young Ambassador at St Clare, as my time was eye-opening. I would highly recommend applying to be a Young Ambassador if you are considering a career in care!
Find out more and apply
Feeling inspired? Find out more about our Young Ambassadors project here: stclarehospice.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/young-ambassador