A Chat with Sidney Thomson, Part-time Program Coordinator
Sidney Thomson is one amazing person. Sidney started working with Home Hospice North Lanark in April 2021 after retiring from her position at Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital. Sidney has made her mark on the organization in so many wonderful ways.
Sidney is starting to plan for her retirement in the near future, so HHNL is starting the process of finding the next amazing person to take on this position. (Please see job posting at https://tinyurl.com/hhnlptpc)
As we launch our search for someone to fill her role, our Public Relations Volunteer Consultant Wendy Rampton sat down with Sidney to chat with her about her experience.
Before we got to the questions, Sidney read the following:
May every step I take be solid and firm. May every step I take consider where it lands. May every step I take leave only a positive, caring, but determined footprint, reflecting my courage to stand for what I believe in…in the face of challenges…may I also change my path to accommodate the needs and beliefs of others…without losing my balance.
These, she tells me, are her personal words to live by.
WR: What was the main reason you chose to work with HHNL?
ST: I saw an ad for the position (at the time it was for a part time position) at the same time I was coming up to retirement. I had enjoyed a varied career as an R.N. at CPDMH for 25 years, 20 of those in palliative care, after completing my fellowship in palliative care. It’s my passion. Thanks to truly wonderful management (we had an unusually high percentage of women in management), I was given some amazing opportunities, including working as a Clinical Nursing Advisor to a university teaching hospital (Haramaya) in Harar, Ethiopia for three months in 2013, and once delivering a presentation on palliative care to the International Nursing Conference in Jerusalem called Once in a Lifetime – the end-of-life journey in the acute care setting in 2012. Both were amazing experiences.
But, back to seeing the ad for the position with HHNL — I knew I was ready to leave bedside nursing, but I wasn’t ready to leave palliative care entirely. So, when I learned about the opportunity, I thought it would be a good way to ease into retirement, instead of that “hard line” of going from full time to “nothing.” It was not long after the pandemic started and I was putting in A LOT of hours. It was very stressful. Also, I knew it would be my last career change, and I felt it would be very interesting to learn about another side of palliative care, and that it would be a positive way to give back to my community.
So I applied, and got the position!
WR: What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
ST: This is a great organization to work with. I was given so much autonomy. A few months into my new job, our full-time Program Coordinator decided to move on after eight years, and I agreed to move into the full-time position until HHNL found a replacement. I was impressed by the solid framework in place…I knew what was needed, what was expected of me and most importantly, I knew I was supported by the Board. I have never experienced such a hard-working group of people. I was fortunate to be here during a period of rapid growth — our client rolls have more than quadrupled in the last year alone. It’s been thrilling! I felt my expertise was respected, which is so gratifying. When the Board is considering how to improve our services and systems — an ongoing pursuit — they are thoughtful and careful.
It has been incredibly satisfying work. I wrap up every day feeling I have contributed to the betterment of at least one person’s life.
WR: If you could change one thing with the way our society deals with palliative care, what would it be?
ST: Wow. That’s a big question. Let me answer it this way: what I have seen too many times in my career is that when I first meet patients/clients and their loved ones, they are already in a crisis situation, and are quite frankly overwhelmed and desperately looking for information and support. It would be so much easier for them if information had been given to them before the situation became acute. Things like what the expected trajectory of various illnesses are and guidance about when to get which kind of supports into place. We need to do a better job of educating the public about the differences between life-changing illness and terminal illness; about what terms like “palliative,” “hospice,” and “end-of-life” actually mean. For example, when someone hears the word “palliative” they often think it means that death is near. This is not necessarily true. In fact, it is usually not true. Palliative means there is no longer a cure, and there may be some adjustments you have to make to your life, but it does not mean there isn’t plenty of high-quality life left! Add to that that the depictions of death that we see in movies and on television are usually so incredibly unrealistic, and that we have such a hard time talking about death and dying in our society. In the end, too many people suffer emotionally far more than is necessary. As a palliative specialist it’s frustrating.
HHNL does a pretty admiral job of trying to change that. We offer courses in Advance Care Planning, and education is a large component if what happens when we get a call from a new client or caregiver. But sadly people don’t take enough advantage of these opportunities, and they wait too long to call. If I’ve heard “we’re not there yet” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Just call. We’ll tell you if it’s too soon. And wouldn’t that be a lovely thing to hear?
It would be my dream if we could talk about death and dying the way we now talk about mental health. Just imagine a society where people can die with the same honour and dignity as what we strive for when babies are born!
WR: What do you hope your legacy will be?
ST: I feel I have contributed knowledge and understanding to coworkers and clients. I think I’ve made some positive differences in terms of efficiency and professionalism. I am especially proud of taking the lead to move our record keeping to an electronic format, and we’ve widened our scope of whom we can take on as clients. I’m very proud of that. I hope I am leaving the organization on an even stronger path than where it was when I signed on.
WR: Is there anything you would like people to know about what it is like to work with a hospice organization?
ST: I will speak to working with HHNL specifically. I would like to tell anyone considering applying for my position that you will feel valued here. The vision and goals these people have are limitless. The support you will receive is extraordinary. This little organization has worked hard to become a legitimate and professional contributor to making life better for many people in our community.
Plus, you’ll get to work with Emily Ballinger, our full time Program Coordinator, with whom I’ve had the privilege of working these last few months!
WR: Wow, Sidney. If an organization could blush, we’d be blushing! Just one more question: what are you planning to do in your retirement?
ST: That’s easy — find time to spend in my greenhouse and volunteer for Home Hospice.
Yes, Sidney Thomson is one amazing person. Thank you, Sidney, for all your hard work. We’ll be in touch about that volunteer promise!
WR October 2022