20 January 2017

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Stefanie’s story

"Coming to the Summer School was a real eye-opener for me. We spent time talking about death and the stigma around it; it made me realise how important it was not to be afraid to talk openly about dying."

Stefanie is a 20 year old nursing student who was inspired to pursue a career in palliative care after coming to St Christopher’s Summer School when she was just 16.

“Coming to the Summer School was a real eye-opener for me. We spent time talking about death and the stigma around it; it made me realise how important it was not to be afraid to talk openly about dying. I hadn’t been to a hospice before and didn’t really know what to expect but, when I did, I realised that it was a hopeful and uplifting place and was very different to what I had imagined.

Before coming to the Summer School I had decided I wanted to be a nurse when I finished studying. My interest in nursing came about after my Grandma fell ill with pancreatic cancer. She had lots of carers and, to begin with, they didn’t provide my Grandma or our family with any comfort. They weren’t interested in talking or reassuring us; they were just there to do a job. After this bad experience new carers came to visit us and the care they gave to my Grandma was wonderful. Their visits made such a difference to our whole family and seeing them at work inspired me; I wanted to be able to make a difference to people in the same way those carers made a difference to my Grandma.

“When I heard about the Summer School at St Christopher’s a few years later I thought it would be a good way to find out more about nursing; I hadn’t really considered working in a hospice before then. Throughout the five days we had lots of conversations around what we would want if we were dying and the things that would be important to us. These discussions made me realise what a scary time this is for people and I wanted to be able to provide some form of comfort to those going through this difficult experience. Coming to the Summer School made me realise what a wonderful and fulfilling career it could be.

It’s now four years after my experience at St Christopher’s Summer School and I’m studying adult nursing at Nottingham University. A large part of the course is focussed on completing placements and students go everywhere from hospitals in the UK to travelling abroad to experience other healthcare settings – one of my friends is in Zambia! For me, it was the perfect opportunity to return to St Christopher’s and I organised a three week placement working on the inpatient unit, in the Anniversary Centre with outpatients and with the Care Home Project Team.

I began my placement on Nuffield Ward and it was such a privilege to see the relationship between the nurses and patients staying at St Christopher’s. The nurses were so kind and their help was so appreciated – every time they walked into a room you could see by the looks on faces the huge impact they had on patients and their families. It also provided me with great practical experience; from helping people with the everyday things they are unable to do for themselves anymore, like walking them to and from the bathroom, to sorting out medication for the syringe drivers. For me, the most memorable part of my time in the inpatient unit was after one patient had sadly passed away and his children came to find me to say thank you. It was so rewarding to feel like I had made a real difference at such an important moment in their lives and their lovely gesture will stay with me forever.

During the second week of my placement I spent time in the Anniversary Centre where patients come in for outpatient appointments and to take part in activities. It’s such a joyous, lively place and really opened my eyes to the other side of hospice care – I often forgot why people were there. Throughout the week I spoke with so many inspirational people and met one patient who had been a nurse. We compared stories and experiences, bonding over the huge differences between nursing then and now and how things had changed. We had both recently read a book about a surgeon who had completed hundreds of operations and it was great to share our views and interests with each other. I was also lucky enough to see the scope of the services offered: from physiotherapy and complementary therapy to music and art activities. It was so different to the placements I’ve completed in hospitals and the feedback from patients was phenomenal. It seemed to really help.

The final week of my placement came around so quickly and the Care Home Project Team couldn’t have been more welcoming. The team work very closely with Care Home Managers and carers to ensure everything is in place to support the best patient care and it was so encouraging to see. I spent time with the team in Lewisham and Croydon and what really struck me was how good the relationships between the Care Homes and the hospice team are. They really do work together as a team and are both so committed to providing the best care possible. I was fortunate enough to be included in clinical meetings, to spend time with patients and their families and work closely with the Care Home staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed my placement at St Christopher’s and it was really invaluable to see and experience so many different aspects of care first hand. We learn about patient centred care at University but experiencing it and hearing patient feedback really highlighted the importance of this individualised care. Every day the team makes a huge difference to the people they care for and I hope I will be able to follow in their footsteps in the future.”

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