“In healthcare, we deal with life changing events all the time - poor prognosis, a diagnosis, surgeries, losing a limb – it’s about helping patients find inner resources to have the best quality of life they can, given those circumstances.”

So says Karen Ellis, who after nearly 20 years crunching the numbers, helping people manage their finances, shifted gears completely to become a pastoral care worker.

“I had my own practice and employed a team of administration staff,” Karen said.

After an approach to sell her business, Karen’s next step into pastoral care seemed completely out of left field, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“When I started, financial planning was 80% about relationships and 20% admin. By the time I left, that had reversed. After accepting the offer, I realised the thing I enjoyed most about the business was building relationships and that was the thing that made me successful.

“In financial planning, you help people through all sorts of situations – unemployment, death, illness, divorce, incapacity, redundancy – all the traumas people have in life. You talk to people to find out their goals and help them achieve those; it’s not a huge step to pastoral care work. So, I headed back to uni and studied counselling.”

Caring for her mum before she died also opened Karen’s eyes to a desire to help people.

“I felt there had to be a better way. Mum had Alzheimer’s, which was awful, but it did trigger a desire to help people have the best quality of life they can, even when things are not going well. Not only at the end of life, but through bad news of any sort.”

Having a brother-in-law working in pastoral care also drove Karen in this direction.

“He’d tell me about his job and I thought that sounds amazing – it was the ultimate relationship job.

“After my mum died and I had all this free time, I planned to get a part-time job close to home with no responsibility. Instead, my daughter saw an ad for a full-time pastoral care residency at Peter Mac and I applied and just loved it. It was like coming home.”

Karen has spent the last seven years at Epworth providing a calm, peaceful presence to patients, their families and staff.

“When there is a bad diagnosis, it’s a shock and can be easy to forget what’s helped you get through other difficult things in your life,” Karen explained.

“I still find it very uplifting to help people live through crisis.”

Since the pandemic, the pastoral care team has provided support to those in the COVID-19 ward and families over the phone.

“Having no visitors was distressing for patients and their families. We were able to give families reassurance and support over the phone and we have continued to visit patients all the way through, which also provided a lot of support for staff, who have been under extra pressure.”

The chapel at Epworth Richmond now offers a Buddhist space for people to reflect and meditate, in time for Pastoral Care Week, 25 – 31 October 2020.


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