A Review of Paid Staff and Volunteers Working Together in Palliative Care

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Workers in the hospice setting play a very important role in providing patient care. However, their work would not be possible without the help of volunteers. They are often responsible for caring for the patients’ families and offer a way of communication with the health care providers. While this partnership is often considered crucial, at times information gaps, coordination failures and tensions can be noticed. Volunteers have noticed that receiving additional information about their patients could improve their interactions.

Oliver (2023) and his colleagues studied this situation to determine if additional collaborations from the two teams could be beneficial and could possibly improve efficiency.

Adopting a systematic approach, the researchers explored the existing literature using a meta-ethnographic method. This type of research combines many stories from different researches to find some common ideas or themes to understand what’s important in a simpler way. Through in-depth reading of different articles written before December 2021 about volunteers in palliative care, 14 articles were chosen. From these articles a selection of five distinctive storylines that summarize the dynamics between volunteers and paid staff in this context was made.

The first storyline, “we are the cake, and they are the cream,” portrays how the paid staff understand the volunteer role when working as a team and separate. The unique supportive role of volunteers is emphasized by the paid staff, however they did not always comprehend their contribution.

The second storyline, “…we don’t know what’s wrong with people but sometimes we need to know,” demonstrates how information is shared between volunteers and paid staff. Volunteers are reporting that it is sometimes difficult to complete their tasks due to strict patient confidentiality policies. This storyline illuminates the delicate balance between understanding the patients’ needs while respecting their privacy.

The third storyline, “everybody looks out for each other,” demonstrates the importance of the collaboration between paid workers and volunteers. The paid staff offer the support needed to ensure a cohesive work environment.

The fourth storyline, “…we don’t meddle in the medical,” describes the different boundaries formed between volunteers and paid staff. Volunteers explain the importance of respecting paid staff boundaries even when not clearly defined. Recognizing and respecting these boundaries is crucial for maintaining clarity and efficiency in the palliative care setting.

The fifth and final storyline, “it’s the small things that the staff does for me that makes me feel good about my work,” highlights the importance of the paid staff acknowledging the volunteers’ efforts. Volunteers report feeling a sense of value and significance and were more likely to continue their work when they felt validated.

This study emphasizes the necessity of a collective team approach in palliative care and the importance of collaboration between paid staff and volunteers. Each group has a unique contribution to make to create a welcoming environment for the patients.

Visit our Research page to read more current hospice palliative care research.

Source: Oliver, K., Brown, M., Walshe, C., & Salifu, Y. (2023). A Meta-Ethnographic Review of Paid Staff and Volunteers Working together in Palliative Care. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.