Michaela Hesse and Lukas Radbruch, Department of Palliative Medicine, University Hospital Bonn, Germany, talk about a recent study week they delivered on volunteering in hospice and palliative care, and the key issues it raised.
This is the experience of a hospice volunteer worker who told us her story. At the hairdresser she met a woman who talked so vividly and enthusiastically about her idea to help HIV patients that she said spontaneously, “I want to help.” The woman she talked to was Irmgard Wester, the founder of ‘Bonn Lighthouse’, an organisation caring for patients with HIV/AIDS. That was 14 years ago and since then she has worked as a volunteer in a number of different activites in the Lighthouse. In the beginning, she cooked for the patients, then she took charge of a weekly coffee hour in an inpatient unit at the hospital, and later she started to care for patients with intellectual disabilities in a specialised nursing home. She still says that being a volunteer makes her life rich and makes her happy.
We got to know her, and other volunteers from the Lighthouse and the local voluntary hospice service of Rheinbach, during a study and research week funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung BMBF). The study week, ‘Volunteer work in hospice and palliative care – sustainable concepts for the future?’, was held from 31 March to 4 April at the Malteser Hospital Bonn.
We invited the volunteers to talk about their work and their experiences. The study week aimed to provide the opportunity to identify challenges, exchange experiences, elicit needs for research and open up international discussion. Thirteen scholars from five countries participated and presented their projects dealing with different aspects of volunteering, such as the challenge of an ageing society; motivation, attitudes and characteristics of volunteers and how volunteers cope with grief and spirituality. In addition, eight renowned international experts gave talks, enriched the discussions and enabled an open discourse with the participants: Fatia Kiyange (APCA – African Palliative Care Association), Werner Schneider (professor of sociology, University of Augsburg, Germany), John Ellershaw (professor of palliative medicine, University of Liverpool, UK), Piotr Krakowiak (director, Hospice Gdansk, Poland), Yvonne Engels (assistant professor, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, the Netherlands), Thomas Klie (professor of public law and administration, University of Freiburg, Germany), Ros Scott (EAPC Task Force on Volunteering) and Leena Pelttari (EAPC Task Force on volunteering, Hospice Austria).
The discussions throughout the week, and across the continents and settings, demonstrated that there is a need to focus on at least three fields of interest:
- Terminology – What does it mean when we talk about volunteers, voluntary work, professional volunteers, civic engagement?
- Guidelines – There seems to be a need for guidance, for example with the definition of standards and guidelines – but how much do standards impede the flexibility that is a core element of volunteer work in hospice and palliative care?
- Core competencies – What are the core competencies of volunteers in hospice and palliative care – across settings and healthcare systems?
Experts and participants of the study week will work on these topics as part of the work of the EAPC Task Force on Volunteering. Meanwhile, treasure your local hairdresser – it could be a valuable source of potential volunteers!
Find out more…
- The EAPC Task Force on Volunteering is holding an open meeting on 5 June at the 8th EAPC World Research Congress in Lleida, Spain. If you’re attending the congress, please come along to the meeting at 0800-1300 on 5 June, in Meeting Room 11 at the congress venue and find out more about our work.
- Click here to read more EAPC blog posts about volunteering in hospice and palliative care.
Later this week on the EAPC blog, a school pupil explains how a volunteer placement in a UK hospice changed her mind about palliative care.