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'Her fearless engagement in promoting psychosocial care for the dying inspires me'

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We quiz Sheila Payne, director of the International Observatory on End of Life Care, chair in hospice studies at Help the Hospices and director of the Cancer Experiences Collaborative.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I always wanted to be a nurse. Not sure I had a good reason.

Where did you train?
St Mary’s Hospital in London.

What was your first job?
Staff nurse on an isolation unit in the attic of St Mary’s. It was extremely interesting with lots of variety in the patients, from homeless men who needed delousing to patients with sad, overwhelming infections or disastrously infected wounds. I loved every minute of it.

Whom have you learnt most from in your career and why?
Frances Sheldon, a social worker, who died tragically young of breast cancer. She set up the first master’s programme in psychosocial palliative care and helped to establish the European Association for Palliative Care. Her fearless and spirited engagement in promoting psychosocial care for the dying has inspired my work.

What advice would you give someone starting out?
Learn skills of enquiry - how to access knowledge and be a critical consumer. Information is not neutral but value laden. A questioning of all taken-for-granted “knowledge” will help develop the profession.

What keeps you awake?
Reviewers’ comments on my journal papers and grant proposals.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
I enjoy working with teams to develop ideas into research proposals and with postgraduate students - they teach me a lot.

Your proudest achievement?
My PhD - a long, hard slog.

What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
More than 25 years ago I worked as an agency nurse to supplement my income and was assigned to provide “special” care for a woman dying alone. She taught me so much about dying and her death imparted a feeling of great privilege of sharing that part of her life. My fascination with loss, dying and bereavement and the desire to improve care has not left me. I hope palliative care will improve and I am confident it will.

What job would you like to be doing in five years?
Happily retired and helping my husband with his antique business, I hope.

What makes a good nurse?
Compassion, critical reflection and intelligence.

If you could change one thing in health, what would it be?
Better recognition of the central role played by family carers and that “individual” autonomy should not be privileged over relationship-focused care.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?
Frances Sheldon to see if she thinks palliative care has improved, and she would remind me that healthcare alone is insufficient without adequate social care provision.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • michael stone

    I have been involved in a discussion with several people for a couple of years, which centres on the legal obligations of relatives when a patient is at home - but I can't quite understand this comment from Sheila:

    If you could change one thing in health, what would it be?
    Better recognition of the central role played by family carers and that “individual” autonomy should not be privileged over relationship-focused care.

    The role of family carers, if a patient is at home, is very important, because not only do those people best understand an incapable patient's likely wishes, but they are also the people a capable patient has the most opportunity to talk to (simply because they are usually physically present, but nurses, etc, usually are not there).

    I am very unclear, given that my position is that the patient 'issues the instructions, and other persons are basically just listening', what this means :

    “individual” autonomy should not be privileged over relationship-focused care

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