2023 Palliative Care Volunteer Conference: The power of perspective

This week, the NSW Palliative Care Volunteer Conference 2023 attracted more than 140 palliative care volunteers and volunteer managers from all over NSW. Held at the RSL Lifecare ANZAC Village in Narrabeen, the conference brought delegates together giving them the opportunity to hear from leaders in their field and participate in immersive experiences.

Attendees have now returned to their communities and workplaces equipped with new tools and learnings to better care for their clients. For many volunteers, especially those from rural and regional locations, having the opportunity to connect with peers and like-minded people was a highlight.

The conference began on Monday 23 October with a set of interactive and informative workshop sessions. Attendees were asked to choose from four concurrent sessions.

Boundaries for Wellness was delivered by Carrie Wallis. This workshop focused around understanding the importance of boundaries in professional relationships, defining what an effective boundary looks like, steps to set effective boundaries and how to maintain them, and learning to say ‘no’ with ease to strengthen relationships.

How to write a truthful and engaging biography was presented by Karen Lane. Biography writing is being offered by more and more volunteer services making a seat at this workshop particularly sought after. With Karen’s help and guidance participants learnt about some of the more difficult elements of biography writing and how they can best be approached, while also fine tuning their biography writing skills.

Understanding Dementia was delivered by Steve Swan. During this workshop, Steve explained what dementia is and how it feels, and how armed with this knowledge and understanding volunteers can better support their clients.

Elena Bellinato presented Grief & Loss – a Volunteer Perspective. This workshop explored grief and loss from various perspectives and how a volunteer can encounter different types of grief while working in Palliative Care. Covering including anticipatory, disenfranchised, ambiguous, and complicated grief, Elena described different grieving styles she has observed while working with families and how families connect and disconnect during end-of-life.

The main conference day followed on Tuesday. On opening, we had an Acknowledgement of Country and welcome delivered by Stephanie Stoddard, Manager of the ANZAC Village. The NSW Network of Managers of Palliative Care Volunteers Co-convener Carolyn Wilkinson followed with an introduction acknowledging the distances delegates had travelled to attend. Volunteers had journeyed from as far away as Broken Hill, Albury, Bega, and Tuncurry.

The opening plenary was delivered by Teresa Plane, NSW Senior Australian of the Year 2023 and a pioneer of palliative care in Australia. Teresa shared insights from her decades of working with the dying in a beautiful and compassionate way. Her reflections on how those dying can be educators for how to live well was incredibly compelling. After 30 minutes, Teresa had gained celebrity status with many people queuing to meet her, express their gratitude and take a photo or two to remember the time they got to meet this extraordinary Australian.

After morning tea, we had Carrie Wallis present “Embrace Stress to Defeat it“. Carrie explained how we can sometime benefit from certain levels of stress and gave practical techniques to harness this stress energy for good.

Following Carrie was the ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying in NSW Information Session’ hosted by Sophie Tyner, Director, and Dr Sara Townend, Visiting Medical Officer, from the State-wide Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service. In preparation of the VAD legislation coming into effect in NSW on November 28, Sophie and Sara shared with volunteers the VAD qualification requirements, GPs and medical practitioners’ responsibilities and the VAD full cycle of implementation.

Following lunch, participants were divided into smaller groups and rotated between four interactive break-out experiences – the Tech Space, the Art Space, the Music Space, and Sensory Space. Delegates experienced a variety of practical ways to connect with their clients including hand massages, drawing and visualisation, the Reverie Harp, and the use of virtual reality.

Our final session was an important one, giving delegates a chance to reflect on their time at the conference. Volunteer Managers Kylie Clark and Sarah Potter presented the session and gave delegates the opportunity to solidify in their minds some key take-away points and note what ideas they would like to explore further.

To conclude the day, Palliative Care NSW CEO Kirsty Blades addressed the room thanking everyone for coming and acknowledging the hard work that went into bringing the conference to life. We are especially grateful to RSL Lifecare ANZAC Village for donating their space, giving our conference one of the most stunning views in NSW.

Palliative Care NSW would like to thank all of the volunteers and volunteer managers who attended and support this important conference. Special thanks to the organising committee for their commitment to delivering an outstanding experience: NSW Network of Managers of Palliative Care Volunteers Co-conveners Carolyn Wilkinson and Janet Pearce, Volunteer Managers Leanne Broadhead, Elanne Thompson and Janeen Norris and Volunteer Support Services Programme Manager, Kate Bowman.

2023 Palliative Care Volunteer Conference: The power of perspective slideshow.