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Linking Arms With Universities To Give Students A Deeper Understanding Of Hospice Care

A newly piloted project has enabled hospice charity ellenor to give nursing students a vital insight into palliative care in their first year of training.

Working in partnership with the universities of Greenwich and Canterbury, the students have been able to get first-hand experience in the hospice ward and out in the wider community.

One youngster to take advantage of the scheme is 19-year-old Ashitha JoJu, who arrived in the UK from Kerala in India in September to start her BSC Adult Nursing Degree at Canterbury Christchurch.

During her three-year course she will have three placements, and the first was four weeks with ellenor.

Ash admitted she was apprehensive about working in end-of-life care, especially as it was her first placement, but the experience proved to be a very pleasant surprise.

She said: “I absolutely loved it, and everyone was so nice to me, so helpful. Coming into hospice care, I was expecting something dark, but it was so comforting, and I have learned so much. When I was younger, I thought hospices were all about death, but what I saw at ellenor was about making life easier and helping patients to have a good death. You learn that death is a normal part of life and that it should happen and it’s OK. I know I will see death in my career and that is fine.”

The education department at ellenor has been working closely with the universities offering nursing and paramedic placements to students. The charity wants to impart vital knowledge to students about hospice care and believes the students can make a big difference to the lives of patients and help them make informed choices. Communication, learning to cope with difficult situations and manage symptoms to avoid hospital admission are all paramount.

Ash spent the first two weeks of her placement with ellenor with the homecare team, going out into the community caring for patients with life limiting illnesses. She also spent time on the hospice ward, learning the basics from washing and feeding patients through to the process of giving medication and sitting in on meetings with doctors and nurses.

Ash said: “I was involved in the handover meetings between shifts, and I was even able to communicate with patients and find out what they wanted to make them comfortable. I felt connected with them.”

Coming to the UK was quite a big culture shock for Ash, especially coming from the beautiful, musical and colourful state of Kerala on the Malabar coast. Her only contact here was her cousin Taiju, who lives in Dartford. Luckily Ash was able to stay with him and his wife, who is an ITU (Intensive Therapy Unit) nurse at Darent Valley Hospital, during her ellenor placement.

She said: “At first I called my parents every day and they still miss me, but they said it was OK for me to come here. I have always enjoyed travelling and experiencing new cultures and people. It has always been my dream to study abroad. My mother is a nurse in India, and she was my inspiration.

“I have always loved caring for people and the hospital where mum worked was near my school, so I used to go in there and wait for her to finish work. I’m used to the hospital experience. Mum used to tell me about her day, so I’m familiar with it all.”

When Ash witnessed her first death while working with the ellenor nurses in the homecare team, she was touched by how peaceful it was. Moved to tears, she later called her mum in India for reassurance.

“She told me it was all OK and that when you have seen death and understand death, your life becomes easier,” said Ash. “Mum said that if you want to cry, you should cry. We are all humans, and we have feelings.”

Ash spent the last week at ellenor with the Living Well team, taking part in music therapy sessions and learning about physio and occupational therapy.

She said: “It was very welcoming, and I took a session playing games with the Living Well patients, which was really fun. I now understand what Living Well means. I saw people enjoying quality time together and making friends.

“People should open their minds to what hospice care is all about – hospices do everything they can to make people’s lives easier. ellenor is a happy place and I thoroughly enjoyed my placement there. I learned so much about providing services in the home, as well as the clinical side and the importance of wellbeing.”



Ashitha and her family.

Ashitha and her family.