Katie was working as a GP when a Wolfson-funded professional development grant provided by Hospice UK caught her eye. Thanks to the funding, she completed her Diploma in Palliative Care for Healthcare Professionals to retrain as a Specialty Hospice Doctor. 

Katie talks to Hospice UK about how the grant has helped her realise her passion for palliative care.

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Working in a hospice: ‘I absolutely loved it!’


It’s a typical, hectic Monday morning, but Katie Gillett, Specialty Doctor at St John’s Hospice, Lancaster, has taken time out of her day to speak to us. 

We’re talking about her somewhat unique experience of getting into hospice care. With so many routes available to healthcare professionals, Katie says that it was an early experience on her GP training that helped her realise that she’d found her niche.

“I was a GP for a couple of years and enjoyed it, but still really loved the palliative care bit the most. That's when I ended up speaking to the hospice where I did my placement. I asked them, “is this possible? Do you give jobs to people who are GPs?” 

The hospice were more than open to the idea: Katie was offered a job there, initially combining her hospice role with some out of hours GP work. But it wasn’t long before she realised that she enjoyed it so much that she wanted to focus on palliative care. 

Katie retrained as a speciality doctor at St John's Hospice thanks to a Wolfson professional development grant

“I did a hospice placement as part of my GP training and absolutely loved it. For me, that felt most worthwhile and suited most what I wanted to get out of medicine, and give as well."

Getting the funding


This important career move may not have been possible without the help of a Wolfson Professional Development Grant. Katie explains:

“The grant was really good because it's specific to palliative care. Hospices are so different: they don't fit in with NHS hospitals, and they don't really fit in anywhere else in healthcare. The grant caught my eye because it was specifically for people working at a Hospice who hadn't done the standard NHS-based training programme. 

“When I took the job at the Hospice, I spoke to my boss about the transition from GP to specialty doctor. He suggested that I really needed to do some postgrad education, and that the course he’d done at Cardiff was absolutely excellent – but it was expensive.”

The grant was perfect for what she wanted to achieve: 

“It fitted in really well because it meant that I could do the course that I wanted to do and really suited what would help me most in the hospice.”

It’s not always easy returning to training. Katie says that although it was hard doing it around work – and other commitments – the payoff was really important to her.

Thanks to Wolfson professional development training, Katie Gillett retrained as a specialty doctor at St John's Hospice, Lancaster

“The course was really vocational. That was perfect because it meant that what I was doing in the course matched exactly what I was doing in my job, and I could do the theory and the practical stuff at the same time.”

Impact and innovation


“My role has definitely adapted since I did the course for all the obvious reasons”, says Katie. “It developed my confidence, competence, education skills, leadership and knowledge, and of course, palliative care.”

She says that she now feels like a specialty doctor, rather than a GP who's working in a hospice. But doing the Wolfson-funded course also helped spark unexpected pathways in her career:

“I'm really interested in education, and I’m now the Clinical Lead for medical students here. I do all their curriculum material, and their supervision. I get to do something that I love!”

Katie explains how it’s also helped bring benefits to the wider hospice:

“It makes their medical student experience more streamlined, and there’s a revenue that comes from having medical students at a hospice.”

The importance of grant funding


Katie’s belief in the power of grant funding is clear: it gives people the resources they need to develop skills they need:

“Other people who are passionate about it and have the right skillset may be able to develop themselves to offer more to palliative and end of life care. It’s such an important area of healthcare. Yet it still sits almost peripherally, especially in the community setting in hospices."

Katie retrained as a speciality doctor at St John's Hospice thanks to a Wolfson professional development grant

“It's all about quality of life rather than quantity, which allows you to refocus care and tailor it to what is important to that individual. This is the aspect of palliative that I enjoy the most as it means you have to get to know the person and take a holistic approach.

"However, it doesn’t necessarily fit with other people’s ideas of why they went in to medicine.”

Changing attitudes: it’s not about saving lives


But what about attitudes to specialising in end of life and palliative care? We asked Katie whether she thought careers in palliative care were generally well known about amongst her peers. She says that it’s gaining more traction, but it doesn’t always chime with medical students’ motives:

“Now, you have to do a lot of acute and general medicine before you can go into palliative care if you want to go down the classic consultant route. But I do think there's still a bit of a stigma.

“A lot of people go into medicine because they want to save lives and make people better. That's not what palliative care’s aim is. 

“There are parts of it that are really sad, and that's an appropriate emotion to have around topics like that. But you can make such a difference in it. Unless you've actually worked in palliative care or worked closely with it, it’s maybe not something that you would necessarily know about. 

Palliative care is an area that almost every doctor or nurse will come across when working in a hospital. But Katie explains that palliative care teams there are often quite small, and serve more of a liaison role:

“You wouldn't know that it was a speciality or what was involved unless you had an opportunity to mix with those people or work with them quite closely. I think there is a problem with lack of understanding about what palliative care does. But there’s definitely a lack of understanding about hospices and what they do.”

St John's Hospice, Lancaster
"Previous GP experience is a great background"

Flexible entry points: pathways into hospice roles


“One of the really good things about the grant”, says Katie, “is it helps to maintain the flexibility of entry to impact to going into palliative care.”

She says that in the classic training route, it’s competitive – there are few places available – and trainees have to spend time working in hospitals: 

“I think it's really important to try and maintain alternative ways to get into palliative care. 

“Having previous experience as a GP is such a good background to have because whilst providing palliative care you’re still having to manage a variety of acute and chronic health problems. To have that as your baseline and then to build on that is a really good way to go. 

“Having the grants to be able to facilitate that variety of ways to improve your knowledge in palliative care is really important. It just opens up your opportunity for recruitment.

Interestingly, all of the doctors that Katie works with at the hospices have one thing in common with Katie: they were all previously GPs.

“They’ve all become specialty doctors in in palliative care…nobody's done the actual training programme! So I think it's a good way to get into it. It's not necessarily a well-known way, but the grant really helps with that.”

Final thoughts


Katie has a final word of encouragement for anyone reading this who might be thinking about changing up their career:

“Go for it – if it fits what you're trying to do. The funding is quite specific in a really good way, because it fits somewhere that other grants don't. It really is worth applying for because the application process was really fair: the work that you had to put into the application wasn't excessive. The communication I got after that was really good – it was great. Just give it a whirl!"

Thank you to Katie for sharing her experience with us.

All photos courtesy of Katie Gillett / St John's Hospice