Why did you join ACPA as a volunteer community ambassador?

I came across an ad seeking volunteer community ambassadors for Advance Care Planning Australia and I thought that this might be a good way to continue to use my knowledge and experience after I retired from my role as a psychologist working in hospital and community settings.

What kind of activities do you do in your role as a volunteer community ambassador?

As part of the Advance Care Planning Australia's National Advisory Service I assist with taking phone calls from people throughout Australia who have questions about advance care planning. 

I also work with a team of other community volunteers to provide presentations to consumers and health professionals about advance care planning.  I have provided information and resources to the community at public events and forums.  Along with other community ambassadors, I have assisted with training new volunteers and I have provided feedback about the development of new resources.  

What did you do professionally before volunteering with ACPA?  How did that prepare you for this role? 

I was employed as a neuropsychologist working in hospital and community settings.  I have seen the challenges experienced by individuals and their families when they have to make difficult health decisions. 

In my role as a psychologist I assisted people to gain knowledge about their health condition so they could be in control of their health care and make decisions where possible.  Unfortunately there were times when the person was too unwell through injury or illness, and in these circumstances, others needed to make decisions for the person. 

Making critical health decisions when a person is very unwell can be distressing for all concerned.  This is especially so if the person has not had the opportunity to have a conversation with others about what they want to happen.  I feel strongly that it is a right for everyone to be informed about their health and to be able to make their own decisions about what should happen.  

What makes you a good ACPA volunteer community ambassador?   

First and foremost I enjoy working with people!  I feel that it is a privilege to be able to assist others in the community to take control of their own health care planning and decision making.   

You need to be a good listener to work out what information a person may need after hearing their story.  This can be a challenge when people are feeling confused or upset. I feel that I am able to give people the time they need to communicate their story and then I am able to guide them to the resources to address their query. There is a lot on the internet and it can be very overwhelming when people are trying to find answers to sometimes complex questions.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the ACPA team?

After I retired I missed the intellectual and interpersonal opportunities provided through my work.  Being a volunteer community ambassador has fulfilled my desire to use my health knowledge to assist others to make decisions and plans for their future health care.  There is much to learn from the other volunteer ambassadors, and they are very welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and experiences with newer volunteers.  

What have you learned in your time with ACPA?

I’ve learned that no two questions about advance care planning are the same.  Just when I think that I might be getting on top of my knowledge about advance care planning there is more to learn!  I have learned about how to help people think about what matters to them in relation to advance care planning. 

I have learned from other ACPA volunteers how to explain complex information in a way that makes it relatable and easier to understand through the use of personal stories and examples.  I have learned that listening to people’s concerns and queries over the phone is more challenging than ‘in person’.  Over the phone you can’t pick up a person’s non-verbal cues which can help you understand the message they are trying to convey.  

What have you found to be common myths and misunderstandings about advance care planning?

Basically the terminology ‘advance care planning’ can be very off-putting and difficult for people to understand. 

People are often asked by their doctor or the hospital to complete an advance care plan and at that stage they are feeling overwhelmed.  They’ve never heard of advance care planning and now they have to fill in a form.  So as a volunteer that’s a good place to start – helping people to understand what advance care planning is about and to talk them through the steps involved.  They appreciate knowing that they can contact ACPA when they need help or become stuck along the way.