Clinical placements

Lessons learned in a hospice

A placement at a hospice widened the perspective of one student, providing an experience that will inform his practice for the rest of his career

A placement at a hospice widened the perspective of one student, providing an experience that will inform his practice for the rest of his career


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During the second year of my nursing degree I had a six-week placement at St Catherine's Hospice in the West Sussex town of Crawley.

The hospice cares for people of all ages, and most of the patients I worked with had cancer.

I have always been inspired by clinicians who choose to work in palliative care. Their dedication to helping terminally ill people achieve their goals, particularly as they approach the end of life, is a gift not many can offer.

People’s goals vary – they may want to be pain free, get married or simply go home to the place where they feel most comfortable. Achieving these goals is key to the aims of hospice care, which is about helping people live as well as possible to the end.

Comfort and compassion

From helping with movement and pain relief to providing emotional comfort, nurses play a vital role in hospice care. Just sitting with somebody and having a cup of tea with them or putting a hand on someone’s shoulder could be the most important thing you do that day.

One of the experiences I remember most from my time at St Catherine’s was showing a patient an easier way of getting out of bed on his own. It was nothing particularly complicated but it helped the patient become more independent, making his stay in the hospice more comfortable.

The level of care the hospice provided to local terminally ill people was excellent, and the overall atmosphere surprised me. There was an underlying air of comfort and compassion that contrasted with the inevitable sadness, and everyone who was looked after at the hospice appeared cared for, safe and listened to.

Sensitivity and skill

I remember walking in the garden with a female patient who was passionate about flowers. I know nothing about horticulture, and she took great pains to teach me. The smile on her face as we walked in the sun will stay in my heart for a long time.

An unavoidable truth of hospice care is that death is always nearby. In many areas of nursing, death is seen as a failure or a mistake, but St Catherine’s helped me to realise that it isn’t the case. In many ways, the most intimate care you can provide for a person is in the hours and minutes leading up to the end of life. Being part of that can never be forgotten.

The nursing staff showed great sensitivity, tact and skill when caring for patients. Having no previous experience of hospice care, to see this aspect of nursing was amazing from both an educational and personal perspective.

Different approach

The difference in approach made me think about the way nurses interact with people at all stages of their lives, and the placement was vital to my learning and development as a nurse.

The practice educator at St Catherine's assigned me to an excellent mentor who helped me adjust to the clinical requirements of cancer and palliative care nursing, and I strongly believe that all students should have the opportunity to learn from nurses working in palliative and end of life care.

St Catherine’s was a fantastic place to go on placement. What I learned from this experience will inform my practice for the rest of my career.


Tom Ball is a third-year adult nursing student at the University of Surrey

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