The palliative-care volunteers’ team at Greenwich Hospital (of which I am now a part), headed by Daphne Robertson, has just been awarded winners of ‘Best Palliative Care Volunteer Service in NSW’ in the 2010 Palliative Care NSW Awards.

Daphne (who has trained and managed the team for the past 8 years) commented ‘I think the main reason we won is that we have such a great team of volunteers. I put a focus on education, supervision and personal development. It is this reputation which allows us to attract an extremely high calibre of person, e.gg, lawyers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, journalists, teachers, business people, psych. students, clergy and many others’(and there are over a hundred of us).

The team has developed innovative ideas in growing and improving the service and has been very active in creating fundraising activities. Volunteers are recognised and valued as part of the multidisciplinary teams and, on a dollar-value-of-volunteer contribution, contribute services worth around $450,000 per annum.

Meanwhile, I am learning lots in my new role as a volunteer on the pallcare unit. In response to my question, asked of her in my first week, a nurse agreed that it was true to say the nurses take care of the patients’ physical needs, and volunteers, of their psycho-spiritual needs (with input from social workers and chaplains). Her comment reminded me of the main reason I left nursing as a career so long ago. I, like many others I am sure, was initially attracted to nursing because I enjoy people and love relating to them. Yet, as I came to understand fairly quickly, the more experienced you become in nursing, the further away from the patients do you move!

The nurses in pallcare (as anywhere else in a hospital), provide essential services, but my interest — indeed my passion — lies in what I see as being equally essential: supporting patients in dealing with their other-than-physical needs. The fact that this aspect of one’s care is catered for by unpaid, casual, members of the community is surely a comment on the value (or lack of) that society places on our psychological and spiritual aspects.

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