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Dr Sarah Thurgood Banner

Why a Career in Hospice Care Offers So Much More Than Meets the Eye

Do you have good communication skills? Do people often commend your ‘way with people’, or laud your ability to understand and empathise with others?

If so, Dr Sarah Thurgood explains, you’ll be a natural fit for a career in hospice care. Dr Sarah’s first brush with ellenor was as a volunteer, but – even as circumstances led her into general practice – she still harboured a love for the palliative care space.

As part of her training as a GP, Southfleet-born Dr Sarah spent four months at ellenor – gaining vital experience and building her skillset in a hospice care environment. Later, she became a Trustee, and now she spends three quarters of her time working with our Hospice at Home team, caring for patients with life limiting illnesses in the community.

For Dr Sarah, ellenor has helped her develop character-building experience, and find that crucial balance between dual roles: as a GP, and as a speciality doctor in the community with ellenor. For her, a career in hospice care has given so much back.

So what can a career in hospice care do for you?

Between development opportunities, more time to connect with patients, and a deeper understanding of your local area, Dr Sarah explains what building a hospice career can offer you – and your community.

Professional Development and Knowledge Sharing

For young doctors looking to enhance their skills and develop professionally, hospice care provides a thriving career pathway.

And, for GPs with an interest in growing their skills in the palliative space, the sector offers plenty of on-the-job training – development that, as Dr Sarah explains, isn’t always that accessible.

“Palliative medicine and care training is quite difficult to come by as a GP. But at ellenor, there are so many opportunities to continue to learn and hone your skills. There’s so much on-the-job support and coaching – particularly for those new to palliative medicine.

“We try really hard at ellenor to fit them into roles where they’re well supported, and base it on the experience they come in with – not their old job title.”

Flexibility Alongside a GP Role

Another of a career in hospice care’s pulls? Its versatility. 

For example, if you’ve trained as a GP – but want to continue your professional development, while balancing that role alongside other duties – ellenor can accommodate.

Just ask Dr Sarah.

“It’s a really lovely job to work alongside general practice – which, in turn, gives you a huge number of the skills you need to be an effective palliative medicine doctor.

“What’s more, hospice care can really act as a foil for some of the stresses of being a GP. It provides the opportunity to do some of the things we might want to do as GPs, but may not have the resources to do on a day-to-day basis.”

More Time with Patients

Many healthcare professionals start their career with one key driver – to spend time with patients. To connect with those in their care, and feel that inherently human connection. For most doctors, though – particularly those in acute settings, such as hospitals – time with patients soon becomes a ‘nice to have’, rather than a must have.

But as Dr Sarah explains, this is one of the key advantages of a career in hospice care.

“It’s so refreshing to have time to spend with patients; to have resources available. Here, we’re able to ask ‘what does the patient want – and how can we provide that?’ Rather than having to look only at what care we can provide under the constraints upon us.”

A Better Understanding of the Local Community

With  large catchment area that extends across Kent and Bexley, we provide care to a wide range of diverse demographics and cultures. But to be able to provide effective palliative care – particularly from the homes of patients – it’s not enough to simply be working in those communities. You have to understand them, too.

Here, as Dr Sarah explains, is where a role in hospice care – particularly one in which you’re regularly interacting with the local community – can help.

“In Dartford, there’s a wide range of different cultures. These different cultures have varying expectations of care – and, in the palliative space, you have to get up to speed with that quickly. You have to be guided by your patients here, to respect their beliefs and values – even if they’re not necessarily your own.”

Getting to grips with the array of cultural perceptions of – and attitudes towards – care and hospices can be challenging.

But it’s one of hospice care’s most rewarding aspects.

Is There a Minimum Age You Need to Be to Work in Hospice Care?

Whether you’ve just completed your F2 foundation training or are a seasoned GP, a career in hospice care has so much to offer.

“Recently, we’re seeing a lot of people joining us after F2, who are keen to get some experience in palliative medicine,” says Dr Sarah. “They haven’t decided – or aren’t yet set on – a training pathway, so they might work here for a year before applying for speciality training.”

With more and more young people choosing ellenor to further their career and gain invaluable experience, it begs the question – at what age is a person right to work in hospice care? Is there one?

“No,” affirms Dr Sarah, “not at all. There’s so much support here for learning and training that I don’t think there’s a lower age limit. As long as you’re keen to learn and have the right qualities, we want you. Plus, we do get young people coming through our doors as patients – so it’s nice to have younger staff they can relate to.

“It can be quite hard, and the work can be emotionally difficult – so you need a lot of maturity in that sense. But there’s support for that here if it’s needed. The F1 and F2 [foundation training] years are extremely tough – you’re exposed to a lot of tragedy and trauma in those times. So if you can handle those, you’d only be further building those skills by coming here – and continuing to develop that emotional resilience you need to thrive in healthcare.”

Is a Career in Hospice Care Right for You?

Let’s once more come back to that opening question – what do you need to be successful in hospice care?

“Really good communication skills,” answers Dr Sarah. “An absolute anchor of our service is speaking to people who might be feeling distressed or angry – at their diagnosis or prognosis, for example. The medical side is what we know, but being able to talk to patients is 90% of what we do. That’s what matters.

“Having empathy is important for any speciality, but particularly for palliative medicine. To be able to understand the patient and their family, and what they’re going through. You need to have an interest in the patient as a wider person – to see them as a whole, not just their medical condition. That includes their family, their social situation, their psychological situation – their environment, not just their disease.”

So, how about it?

Launching yourself into a career that offers development opportunities, flexibility, and more time with patients? That encourages you to see those patients for who they are – not their condition alone?

A career that enables you to not only immerse yourself within your local community, but learn more about the diverse demographics within them? A career where, every day, you can make a tangible difference – and see that difference in a smile or a simple ‘thank you’?

A career in hospice care. Where could it take you?