Susan Swanepoel  


1. What is your name?

Susan Swanepoel

2. Which hospice do you work for?

Franschhoek Hospice

3. What do you do there?

I am the Nursing Manager.

4. How long have you been there?

Twelve years.


1. Why did you decide to focus on palliative care?

I worked in a labour ward in private hospitals in several provinces for many years. The post was advertised for a palliative care sister at Franschhoek Hospice and I applied with no previous experience. I was mentored by Sr. Pam Lewis and Sr. Nadia Boonzaaier for a year before studying the year Short Course in Palliative Care at St Luke’s.

2. What gives you the greatest fulfilment?

Helping patients and their families to prepare for a good death and to relieve pain and other symptoms during their illness.

3. What do you find the most challenging?

We are two sisters at Franschhoek Hospice (and we are) caring for an average of 100 patients. Our palliative care load can be demanding at times, with (being on) call every second weekend. We have a large, demanding Department of Health contract with 9 community health workers. The supervision, stats and work allocation is done by the two Palliative Care sisters as well.

 4. What do you think people find the most challenging about a life-threatening diagnosis?

Many people fear pain and suffering (and) worry how they are going to die.

 5. What do you think that you personally bring to your job that reflects who you are as a person?

I have a deep faith and have the privilege of caring for patients and their families, many (of whom) have lost loved ones and who don’t fear death and dying. You need to be comfortable with death and dying in order to provide holistic palliative care.

 6. How do you take care of your own health and balance?

I walk daily, eat healthy, do Pilates and our team at hospice are very supportive of one another and we meet daily, debrief and laugh a lot!

 7. What is your advice to anyone else wishing to join your profession?

Work at a hospice for a year, gain valuable work experience and then go a study the Short Course in Palliative care.

8. What is your advice to anyone given a life-threatening diagnosis?

To me, honesty is the most important factor in dealing with your diagnosis and illness, treatments etc. Honesty from the doctors, oncologists, hospice team and social worker. Time may be short for many patients and many things need to be put in order or unfinished business (will) need to be addressed. (Also) prepare for doctors’ visits, write down your questions and look at all treatment options available to you for your specific illness.

 9. What is your advice to the loved ones of anyone who is given a life-threatening diagnosis?

Reassure them that they are not alone in this journey. There will be good and bad days in the patient’s illness. The patient is the head of the team and will make the decisions on treatment plan with support from family and hospice team.

 10. How do your loved ones feel about the work that you do?

My children have grown up with hospice and patients dying as part of their lives. My husband and children have always been very supportive of my work and know all the staff at Franschhoek Hospice. We have a privileged life and being able to care for others less fortunate has been very special to me.

 11. What do you like the most about the hospice that you work with?

We are a small team at Franschhoek Hospice. Our staff turnover is almost zero. We love and support one another and have experienced loss in our own personal lives over the years. We are flexible with our working hours, if the need arises, and our social auxiliary worker Tiana is so willing to assist the sisters with any task. Good communication with our manager and board members is also an asset in our hospice.

 12. Do you have a “motto” that you tend to live by that you would like to share?

“You must be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi