- Provider St Clare Hospice
- Name Young Ambassadors
Our Young Ambassadors scheme has been running for three years, giving young people an opportunity to experience volunteering within a hospice environment. The project helps 16- to 18-year-olds enhance their college, university or job applications, while also offering valuable life skills development through direct contact with patients, families and care teams.
We set out to open up palliative care to young people considering a medical career, and dispel some of the preconceptions surrounding hospice care - showing that hospices can help people to carry on living to the end of their life, and are not just a place to die. We are trying to break down those barriers from an early age, so we sought to develop a role where our young volunteers could be ambassadors, spreading the word to other young people about what hospices are actually like.
Originally, the voluntary placement was for a year, where two ambassadors volunteered in our inpatient unit once a week, at a weekend or after school. However, after the first year we changed it to a six-month placement, following feedback that volunteering commitments became difficult during exam periods.
Throughout the project, the ambassadors have played an integral part in shaping the voluntary roles. Rather than giving the ambassadors general volunteering duties, they now shadow various roles in a tiered process; they begin by working with our inpatient volunteers, then spend time working with nursing assistants, nurses and, towards the end of their placement, they get input from the doctors. This works well as they are able to take on greater responsibilities as their knowledge and experience grows.
Clinical staff initially had fears around the risk of introducing young people into the inpatient unit and we were also worried about supporting them while they experience the reality of death and dying. However, we quickly realised that these were unfounded, as the young people showed great maturity and insight.
One of last year's ambassadors, Lauren, said that her placement was "the best care experience of my life" and has now achieved a conditional offer at medical school. One of this year's cohort has already secured a paid role as a healthcare assistant at a local nursing home.
The project is also helping to change attitudes to young people and their abilities; everyone has been impressed with the calibre of young people the scheme has attracted. I was at a jobs fair last September, when someone came up to me to tell me that their relative had been in our care and one of the young ambassadors, Theo, had been wonderful to them. They were so impressed with how much time Theo had spent with them and that someone so young was working in a hospice setting.
From the outset, the project has aimed to raise awareness of the great work that hospices do; now we can use our young ambassadors' stories and experiences to spread this message.
By Theo Hall
The most beneficial experience in my life so far has been my volunteering spell as a young ambassador. I learned so much about myself as well as about palliative care during my time at St. Clare Hospice.
I learned how to be patient and caring, how to talk to people who may not be around much longer without awkwardness and how nurses approach different situations with a tailored approach based on their knowledge of the patient and situation. I also learned some of the things that make a difference to the dying and those who love them; kindness, respect, patience, honesty.
When I was applying for a job afterwards to be a healthcare assistant, the volunteering position as a young ambassador noticeably impressed my interviewer. I could answer every single question they gave me with a reference to real experiences and insights gained from my time at St. Clare Hospice. All of the theoretical situations they gave me during the interview were palpable to me as I had experienced many of them already.
In the long term, this position helped me to understand the many facets of this profession and to get a sense of the role I would like to play.