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Nassehi, Armin; Saake, Irmhild; Breitsameter, Christof; Bauer, Anna; Barth, Niklas; Reis, Isabell (2024): Adding spontaneity to organizations – what hospice volunteers contribute to everyday life in German inpatient hospice and palliative care units: a qualitative study. BMC Palliative Care, 23 (1). ISSN 1472-684X

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Volunteers have always been integral to hospice and palliative care. However, their roles have been left relatively undefined and broad.

This study aims to examine the role of hospice volunteers in German inpatient hospice and palliative care. The question we seek to answer is: What do hospice volunteers contribute to everyday life in inpatient hospice and palliative care units?

We undertook a multicenter, on-site qualitative interview study, utilizing problem-centered interviews with 16 volunteers from five inpatient hospice units and one hospital palliative care unit. Interviews were analyzed using grounded theory.

Analysis of the interviews revealed three typical characteristics of how hospice volunteers’ describe their own role: (1) performing small acts of kindness, (2) creating a family-like atmosphere, (3) expecting emotional experiences. A common theme across all categories is the emphasis on spontaneous actions and personal experiences. The process of dying becomes an experience interpreted by volunteers as enriching, as a gift, as a “teacher”.

Granting hospice volunteers freedom to act spontaneously and intuitively benefits hospice and palliative care delivery. Organizations should leave sufficient room for spontaneity in order to involve volunteers effectively. Open and unstandardized roles facilitate dynamic work practices.

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