Cicely Saunders was a renowned nurse, physician and social worker. She was credited for introducing the idea of “total pain” through which she gave equal importance to physical, emotional, social and spiritual distress. During her tenure as a research fellow at St. Mary’s Paddington, she campaigned for the practice of the administration of drugs on a regular basis to those patients who were suffering from constant pain. She put stress on the fact that patients’ constant need of certain medicines like morphine leads them towards addiction to such medicines. According to her, only regular administration of such medicines can solve this problem by enabling them to receive lower doses of these medicines. This theory of Cicely is considered as an important part of hospice care. She will be remembered as the founder of St. Christopher’s hospice that takes care of terminally ill patients. In an era, when euthanasia was considered as the only solution for patients suffering from cancer and other painful conditions, she proved that pain can be controlled by compassionate care and love through the establishment of St. Christopher’s hospice. This organization is the first in the history of medicine to combine teaching and clinical research. She also authored books like “Care Of The Dying” and co-edited “The Management Of Terminal Disease”.
Childhood & Early Life
Cicely Saunders was the eldest child of Gordon Saunders, who worked in real estate, and his wife Chrissie. She belonged to a wealthy family of London. She attended day school from where she received her early education.
At the age of ten, she took admission at Southlands, a boarding school near Brighton. From 1932 to 1937, she attended Roedean, a fashionable boarding school near Brighton.
She planned to study at Oxford University after completing her education from Roedean. Unfortunately, she could not clear the entrance test. Later, she attended St. Anne’s College, Oxford.
After taking admission at St Anne’s in 1938, she decided to study politics, philosophy and economics. Later, she decided to join the Nightingale Training School to train as a Red Cross Nurse. Therefore, she left St. Anne’s in 1940.
She served her probationary rotations at several mental hospitals in London. After that, she served for the medical, surgical, children’s and gynaecological wards at Park Prewett hospital.
In 1944, she returned to St. Anne’s College owing to a back injury and took a BA in 1945. Next, she received training at the Royal Cancer Hospital and qualified as a medical social worker.
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She started her career as a medical social worker in September 1947, by serving as an assistant almoner at St. Thomas’s Hospital’s Northcote Trust, a specialized health centre for cancer patients.
In the late 1940s, she worked part-time at St. Luke’s Home for the Dying Poor in Bayswater.
In 1951, she joined St Thomas's Hospital Medical School to become a physician. She graduated with MBBS degree in 1957. After that, she joined the pharmacology department at St. Mary’s Paddington as a research fellow.
At St. Mary’s Paddington, she also used to take care of patients. It was during this time that she took the initiative to promote the practice of the regular administration of drugs to relieve patients’ pain.
In 1958, she worked at the Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s hospice in Hackney, East London. There she served for seven years and pursued research work on pain control.
In 1959, she remained busy in writing papers on her concepts for the modern approach towards hospice. Through one of her papers titled “The Need”, she highlighted the issue of loneliness and isolation of patients. She stated about the significance of love and care as essential part of treatment to cure such patients.
Her second paper “The Scheme” states her plan for a 100-bed home for cancer patients and for those who were suffering from other terminal illnesses. She also mentioned about a chapel, staff theologians and prayer time as part of effective medical treatment.
While working at St. Joseph’s Hospital, she started raising funds for the construction of St. Christopher’s Hospice, her dream project of a 100-bed home for cancer patients.
St. Christopher’s started functioning from 1967. She served as its medical director from this year. In 1985, she acted as its chairman and she remained in this position till 2000. In 2000, she became the President of this organization.
Awards & Achievements
Cicely and her St. Christopher’s received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for modern approach towards hospice movement. This award acknowledges the importance of science and humanity to treat patients.
Personal Life & Legacy
While serving at St. Thomas’s Hospital’s Northcote Trust, she met David Tasma, a cancer patient from Poland. She fell in love with Tasma whom she nursed till his death.
Tasma left 500 pounds which acted as an inspiration behind the construction of her dream project St. Christopher’s Hospice. Later, she developed romantic relationship with Antoni Michniewicz, her patient. Antoni passed away in 1960.
In 1980, she married Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, a Polish painter. In 1995, Marian passed away in St. Christopher’s hospice.
Cicely died of cancer at the age of 87 at St. Christopher's Hospice.
In one of her interviews, this prominent social worker admitted that being an introvert, she found it extremely difficult to make friends while studying at Roedean boarding school. Moreover, her parents’ unhappy marriage complicated her situation.