Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme
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Telling their story: Sacred Heart’s volunteer biography service wins hearts and awards

Since 2016 Julie Gissing and Robyn Swanson have jointly managed the volunteers involved in the Sacred Heart Biography Service.

The Biography Service in its current form started at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney with one volunteer in 2009.

Julie and Robyn, both experienced volunteers, were recruited as joint coordinators to develop the Service and ensure its sustainability.

Since then the number of trained biography volunteers has grown to 45, enabling members of the Community Palliative Care Team to offer it with confidence to their clients, with referrals coming from community nurses and allied health.

 “We visit every client that is referred to us. The match between the client and the volunteer is really important. We aim for the process to be pleasant and enjoyable for them, not stressful.”

 Ideally clients have three or more months to live and the process can last for a few weeks or a few months.

Volunteer biographers listen, record and transcribe what the client recalls, adding photos and other memorabilia. At the end of the biography sessions clients receive two copies of the book that can be shared with, and kept by, family.

So what is it that makes biography so valuable for the client?

“Almost always, 99% of the time, it’s about the process. It’s about the telling of their story.”

The Sacred Heart Biography Service was recently awarded the prestigious 2018 Innovation and Excellence Award, a national award from St Vincent’s Health Australia under the category ‘Leaders in Catholic health care and service to the poor and vulnerable’.

Earlier this year Robyn and Julie offered biography training to Supportive Care Volunteers in Western Sydney LHD. To learn more about the role of a Sacred Heart volunteer biographer watch this ABC News clip on Life Stories.

Robyn and Julie will be speaking about their biography program at the 2019 NSW Palliative Care Volunteer Conference (3-4 June, Blacktown). Conference registrations will open in December.

If you are interested in news and updates about Volunteer Biographers from the Volunteer Support Services Programme in NSW please follow this link to register your interest.

Pic: Robyn Swanson (R) and Julie Gissing (pic credit St Vincents Health)

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