Notable alumni: Dame Cicely Saunders OM DBE

Image courtesy of Derek Bayes.

Physician

A double alumna of GKT, Dame Cicely Saunders OM DBE (1918–2005) revolutionised palliative care for the dying by pioneering the modern hospice movement, as well as establishing the Institute of Palliative Care at King’s – the world’s first of its kind.

She originally obeyed her parents’ wishes to study philosophy, politics and economics at St Anne’s College, Oxford, instead of following her vocation in nursing. However, when the war intervened she paused her studies at Oxford to train as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital Nightingale School of Nursing, graduating in 1944. After the war, Dame Cicely worked as a hospital almoner (now known as a social worker) and then returned to GKT to train as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, graduating in 1957. She then worked at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney.

Unlike many doctors at the time, Dame Cicely did not see dying as a failure. Cicely’s vision was to create a home-like environment where people coming to the end of their lives were offered not just hope and comfort but also the best medical care and symptom control. In 1967, her vision became a reality, with the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, south east London.

In her later years, she set up The Cicely Saunders Foundation (now Cicely Saunders International) to fund a centre for research and education in palliative care. This led to the world’s first purpose-built Institute of Palliative Care, developed in partnership with King’s, which conducts research and offers training to healthcare professionals.

The author of over 85 publications that have been translated around the world, Dame Cicely received 25 honorary degrees in her lifetime. Thanks to her intellect, tenacity and compassion, hundreds of modern hospices now look after the dying throughout the world. She was made a DBE in 1980 and received the Order of Merit in 1989.

Kate Kirk, niece of Dame Cicely and Trustee of Cicely Saunders International, said:

‘In Cicely’s centenary year, her life’s work continues through the Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation, which is internationally recognised for contributing to a field where the need is growing fast.’

Did you know: Cicely first published an article about her concept for palliative care hospices in St Thomas’ Hospital Gazette, the internal hospital newspaper.