How Volunteer to Career restored Michelle’s faith in humanity

18th May 2023

Michelle Gooding Image cropped

*Trigger warning: This story contains content about suicide"

Michelle was a police officer for 20 years. Disillusioned with complex politics within the service, she left in 2018, burnt out and close to taking her own life.

Therapy and a support group for ex-police officers helped Michelle to recover. And then an advert for an End-of-Life companion volunteer set her life toward a whole new career.

“I didn’t expect to be treated so kindly; I didn’t expect to be told I was fantastic…”

From end of life to a career in mental health support

Michelle Gooding is one of those people you can’t help but like. The corners of her mouth turn up in a warm half smile and her eyes glisten as she talks about her voluntary role as an End-of-Life Companion at the Grange University Hospital, part of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. It’s not the sort of role you expect someone to smile about, but when Michelle chats, it is hard not to be humbled. And even smile yourself.

Michelle sits with patients with no family and few friends, as they enter their final days. Sometimes she listens to someone chat about their life. Sometimes she reads to them – ‘The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse’ is a favoured choice for Michelle. The whole experience in her words has been ‘very levelling’, and perhaps that’s why she loves it.

“I was with this lady at the Grange every day for a couple of hours for three weeks. Initially she didn’t come through as end of life, she came to me through the Person-Centred Care Team. She was born blind and only had a small number of friends who came maybe once a week to visit her. It turned out she had cancer and it had gone everywhere in her body. She’d had therapy dogs throughout her life, so I arranged for some to come in and help keep her company. Within three weeks we became more than patient and companion; we became friends. It was a humbling experience as I was her main support until she was transferred”.

This and similar experiences have led Michelle to a whole new career as a Mental Health Care Support worker.

End of Life to Mental Health Care

In November 2022, Michelle’s line manager, Kathryn Thomas, told Michelle about the Volunteer to Career programme developed by Helpforce and funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing. Through her volunteer role, Michelle believes she saw what the NHS is all about and how completely it differed from her feeling when she joined.

“I was treated with kindness, value, and care. And that was what made me think I could do this as a career.”

After Kathryn had told her about the programme, it only took three months before Michelle found a job with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board as a Mental Health Care Support worker. Since starting the role in March 2023, Michelle has had nothing but positive things to say about the job and the people she works with. As she was already using skills she’d learnt in the End-of-Life Companion role, for Michelle, it was just about transferring the same skills into the new job.

“To be treated with value. That’s what I felt as a volunteer, and that’s what I continue to feel in my new role. We have domestic staff, healthcare support workers, junior nurses, doctors, consultants… nobody looks down on you or treats you differently to everyone else. There is no “them” and “us” culture. It’s all just “us”. Together.”

Michelle has found the experience so rewarding, that she keeps pinching herself every day she arrives for work, afraid that it might just be a dream.

What next?

When we asked Michelle if she was going to continue volunteering as an End-of-Life Companion on top of her new job, she flashed that warm half smile again.

“The thing is, we underestimate how much these patients help us all. How much they’ve really helped me. Having sat with the lady who was blind, I would walk out feeling blessed to have the gift of sight. This experience changed how I felt about the simple things in life. I love the End-of-Life Companion role. It is so rewarding!”

And as for the Volunteer to Career programme itself, Michelle has only one more thing to add.

“Volunteer to Career is such a valuable tool to progress into a new career path within the caring profession. There are so many different avenues and directions you can take, and I would encourage anyone interested, to volunteer with the NHS and see where it leads you.”

You can learn more about Volunteer to Career here.