Hospice professionals have the heart of an amateur

Most of us who work in medicine refer to ourselves as professionals and for good reason. Years of education, training, and experience make you the clinician you are. Hospice professionals in particular require a very special set of skills to care for patients and families. You are truly professional in caring for the whole person.

When it comes to sports there is a clear line of distinction between professionals and everyone else. The professional level in any sport is something only a select few ever attain. The official term for those who never reach the professional level is amateur. Unfortunately, there is a widespread misunderstanding of exactly what the word amateur means.

Most people associate the word with a lack of skill or a beginner; someone who’s not good enough to be called professional. But consider the true primary definition of the word amateur:

A person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.

The biggest difference between an amateur and a professional lies in the heart. The amateur plays the game because of the love he has for it. He does so without the expectation or motivation of payment. The heart of an amateur drives him to be better, improve his skill level, or increase his knowledge because he simply love doing so. It is said that Bobby Jones, the famous golfer who still holds the record for winning all four major tournaments in a single year, refused to turn professional for this very reason. His love for the game had nothing to do with money.

The heart of an amateur can of course be present in a professional. I believe this to be the case with hospice professionals. Everyday you care for patients and their families with great passion. You relentlessly pursue a quality of life for your patients with the heart of an amateur, and that is a great thing. The vast majority of the time hospice professionals are paid and by no means am I advocating it should be otherwise. My hope is simply that you never get so wrapped up with being a hospice professional that you lose the heart of an amateur.

As with any great passion, sport or otherwise, there are elements of hospice work that are tedious, frustrating, and exhausting. The professional would rather avoid these less enjoyable parts of hospice care but the amateur knows they are part of what drives her love for what she does. Not because of the exhaustion or frustration itself but because of the end result of a comfortable patient or a peaceful family. Professionals who possess the heart of an amateur love what they do because they simply have a passion for it that can’t be quenched by occasional frustration or exhaustion.

As the hospice profession continues to mature in skills and knowledge, one thing remains sure. This very special area of care, of which we call ourselves professionals, will always require a strong passion and love for what we do. Always strive for the excellence of professionalism but never do so without the heart of an amateur.

Andy Milligan is President and CEO, Solaris Healthcare.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.ohara2 Kevin OHara

    When I first served as an Hospice Volunteer, 1982-84, the organization was comprised of volunteers (‘amatuers’ in the more traditional sense). We were supervised and trained by nursing professionals and others from the health care and spiritual care community. Our motivation was of the “…passion and love…” to which you make reference. Today, are hospice services still founded upon this volunteer corps’ interventions, or are the volunteers moved to the peripery of the care model? Do any of the medical and social service ‘professionals’ recognize the volunteers as the keystone of the arch of palliation and companionship?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1085301845 Sherry E Showalter

    The true “hearts” of Hospice are the volunteers and those volunteers along with a handful of pioneers started this “concept of care” called HOSPICE and while your article speaks volumes, I was drawn to it like a mother Eagle with her talons out when I read the word “amateur”… as one who has worked with passion and mindful purpose, remembering the “grand dames” and pioneers of Hospice who trained doctors, and professionals to be patient and familiy focused back in the day… when a medical model and a room number, led Dr Josephina Magno after a diagnosis of breast cancer to see first hand how patients were treated to go forward to England and study this thing called hospice with Dame Cicely Saunders and return to Georgetown and begin a pilot program, then opening a little school house in Arlington VA that mercy built called Northern VA Hospice, along with a nurse and a volunteer… where then she began the Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine to teach docs how to treat those with terminal illness and included social workers and chaplains and knew that a medical model was not enough… Yes the passion and purpose and need for holistic care cannot be paid for enough as now we move to a “business model” with those at the top and HR’s being employed by those who used to work for Bank of america and never held a dying child nor Elder, never having walked the walk of the pioneers who taught and trained and sat by the bed of the dying or bereft as volunteers or paid staff and absorbed multiple deaths into their brains and bodies and hearts… Pioneers like Mary Labyak, gone too soon at 63 years old; who shaped the world of Hospice care, Dr Bernice Catherine Harper a social worker known as the “professionals’ professional, along with Mary standing strong for patients, and those who love them and the communities at large…

    Seasoned veterans of pain, suffering, and blessings, with educations honed to artistry by those we are privledged to provide holistic care for…

    HOSPICE … the hearts of hospice are our volunteers, our staff, and those who look to us for compassion and unconditional positive regard. the education continues, and for some? Well they would be better serving in other capacities… While hospice needs desperately to take care of its own, to send theirs to seminars and addresss compassion fatigue among those doing the work as it is flourishing in our country secondary to all that is being done day in and day out, working with intensity and with the fraility of life itself…  So now that I have absorbed the use of “amateur” and shared my thoughts, I also hope all will honor the pioneers, will say their names and remember our roots and take bestcae of each other in this world of Hospice..

  • http://twitter.com/JasonBoies Jason Boies

    Very nice piece, Andy.

    That’s a great philosophy to bring to the work place, not just for hospice workers, but for anyone in the health and wellness field. 

    Cheers to you, sir.

    Jason Boies
    Radian6

  • http://twitter.com/AMilligan Andy Milligan

    Thanks Jason. I agree that the heart of an amateur applies in so many areas of our lives.  Thanks for reading.