‘There’s so much living going on’

Galway student Jamie McDonagh shares the experience of his placement with the Medical Social Work team at Galway Hospice

The Medical Social Work Team at Galway Hospice offer support to patients and their families. 24-year-old student Jamie McDonagh recently spent 3 months on placement with the team.

Jamie, from Athenry, is in his final year of studying Social Work in University of Galway. He was unfamiliar with the role of social work in palliative care before his placement, but now hopes to begin a career in the area, such was the impact of his time with Galway Hospice. “I knew the Hospice but thought it was about death and dying and sickness, that was my perception of it. But no, as soon as I walked in the doors, it was great. Everyone was so welcoming, from the medical team, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social work, they were all lovely. They were all so nice, so welcoming.

“I really felt straight away it was going to be a great place.”

Based in Inpatient Unit at Galway Hospice, Jamie saw the full extent of the role social work plays in supporting patients and families. Explaining that he felt “adopted” by the Medical Social Work Team, he helped support inpatients, patients in the community, day care patients, and families through individual and group support.

“Every day is different. You could be organising home help for when someone’s going home, making sure there’s support at home, supporting them in here, supporting the family, chatting to them, making sure they feel safe,” he explains. “A lot of people when they come into the Hospice, they have that perception that it’s about death and dying but there’s so much living going on as well. Like one day we were line dancing with a country singer, another day the Connacht Rugby team came in.”

The Medical Social Work Team can help if there’s something that a patient really wants to do like memory making activities with their families. This might be a hotel break, a visit to cinema or their local pub or afternoon tea with their friends. He explains,

“It’s a small thing but might mean a lot to the person.”

The Medical Social Work Department facilitated a Family Bereavement Weekend Camp in September 2023 at Wildlands Activity Centre. This camp was attended by young bereaved families, who all experienced the death of a parent under the care of Galway Hospice. Jamie was involved in the evaluation of the 2023 weekend camp, which provides space for children and parents to connect with other bereaved families, as well as have fun and create memories together.

He explains, “They all really valued the group and it showed the value a weekend like that can have for families. Some families found that it was nice to have a weekend away where they didn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning at home, other families found it opened up a conversation about their parent who had passed away, especially with the teenagers where that couldn’t have happened before, they wouldn’t have talked about it.”

Going back to college after completing his 3-month placement with Galway Hospice, Jamie says he “felt really proud”. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better placement, there’s a lot of learning in it.” While other students on his course completed placements in other areas, he was the only one in palliative care. “It’s an old-style of social work, about building that relationship and rapport with the family, getting to know them and actually working with them. A lot of social work is case, case, case, whereas here it’s a bit slower, you can get to know the family and build a really good relationship with them.”

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