Career advice

‘Every contact counts’

Senior healthcare assistant Sharon Finn says she has found her true vocation caring for people at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, east London

When senior healthcare assistant (HCA) Sharon Finn met a vulnerable man while on patrol as a neighbourhood warden, she knew she had found her vocation.

Realising that the man was down on his luck and in need of support, she pointed him in the direction of services that could help. When she later visited him at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, east London, she says she could tell straight away that it was ‘a place of nurturing’.

‘I had visited him at other places but at St Joseph’s he looked really cared for,’ says Ms Finn. ‘He was clean-shaven, his eyes sparkled and he smelt of soap. This had such a powerful emotional effect on me – it was everything that care should be about. I knew then that St Joseph’s was where I wanted to be. I wanted to be someone who made that difference.’

Ms Finn has worked as an HCA at the hospice for ten years. After five years on the palliative care wards attending to patients at the end of their lives, she joined the nurse-led respite ward, looking after patients with a variety of terminal or life-limiting conditions, including cancer.

‘The hospice is located in an area of east London with a lot of poverty and a diverse population. People come in for a planned stay of one to two weeks, and we encourage them to maintain their independence as much as possible. Respite gives our patients and carers a chance to recharge their batteries,’ says Ms Finn.

‘Our patients are facing an unclear future, so I use my experience, skills, empathy and compassion to support them during their stay. By making our interactions meaningful, I can help allay their fears and help them to live in the moment,’ she adds.

Before taking up her post at St Joseph’s, Ms Finn worked in a variety of caring roles, including domiciliary care assistant and special day care organiser at Stepney Jewish Community Centre in London’s east end. But it is in hospice care that her true vocation lies.

‘The hospice is full of healing, love and nurturing,’ says Ms Finn. ‘It nourishes me as a person, and is a supportive environment. I have completed a cancer support programme, and had training in dementia care, conflict resolution and safeguarding, to name but a few. There is so much on-the-job training available for staff.’

A fan of singing and dancing, Ms Finn says she does a mean Kate Bush impersonation, and can often be found bopping around on the wards. But as with many of the nursing workforce, she says the biggest challenge she faces is lack of time.

‘I want to give all of our patients the time they need to fulfil their potential, however limited. I am taking this journey with them, and it is so important that I take my lead from them and really listen to what they want.

‘I want to make every contact count and show people that I value them, and I think that shows,’ she says.

Ms Finn believes that the key to building relationships with patients is being consistent in everything you do, which helps them unfold and share their concerns.

For her, ‘the little things are the big things’, whether this is making someone a cup of tea or helping with manicures. A trained hairdresser, she also trims patients’ hair, and having recently completed a course of massage workshops, offers massages to patients.

This unwavering dedication to improving the quality of patients’ lives saw Ms Finn crowned joint winner of the RCN health practitioner member award at last month’s Nursing Standard Awards, held at the Savoy Hotel in London.

‘I feel incredibly honoured and humbled to win the award,’ says Ms Finn. ‘I was nominated by my colleagues, and to know they support me makes a real difference. It was an experience I will always treasure.’

She reserves the highest praise for the ‘amazing’ team she works with. ‘It is a very special team that is not led by command or authority, but by professionalism and respect for one another. The patients always come first, and that is something we can all be proud of.’

This article is for subscribers only