Volunteers' Week: The Role of a Helpline Operator
Our Helpline Operators have faced new challenges since March 2020 and have received more calls than any other previous year. However they have astounded us with their adaptability, hard work, and kindness as they continue to provide support and information to patients and their families.
We will be providing an insight into their experiences of supporting patients on the Helpline specifically through the pandemic in a later article, however for now we’d like to re-share this article from 2019 which details the work they do in their role.
About the Helpline
Our Patient Information & Support Helpline is one of our key services here at The Pituitary Foundation, and between July 2017 and June 2018, 2600 enquiries were answered through the form of text, email and telephone.
This Helpline is run by Pat McBride, Sammy Harbut, and a team of 10 Volunteer Helpline Operators who do a mixture of having dedicated weekly shifts, and providing extra cover when needed. All of the operators are responsible for making sure each caller gains as much as possible in the way of support, information and/or appropriate signposting. The role can be very rewarding, but comes with significant responsibility and can sometimes be very challenging.
We feel so lucky that we have such a dedicated team who provide a listening ear to many patients and their families when they are struggling. For callers, it is often that kind voice on the end of the phone in early diagnosis that can make everything seem that little bit less daunting for the journey that could be ahead of them.
To give an idea of what the role entails, here is an overview of one of our operator’s weekly shifts:
“I’m all ready for my weekly shift which starts at 10:00am. By 10:05, the phone rings; this caller was seeking insurance for their holiday, so I provided them with a link to our travel insurance section. I also told them about travelling in general, and used our website link for this. They were delighted. It didn’t feel as though I did much, but hopefully helped them have less to worry about.
Another few calls in the next hour – one was 35 minutes, listening and providing support for someone newly diagnosed – these calls can be longer, but are much needed to the caller of course (and us, as we don’t forget how it felt when we were newly diagnosed). The next caller wanted to order a booklet which I did for them. By the end of my shift at 1:00pm, I had answered six calls.
It’s such a satisfying role, and so worthwhile, to be in a position to simply help other patients and their families. As I’m a patient, I truly ‘get’ why they call us and how we are able (as fellow patients) to do our very best to help.”
What are the reasons for calling?
As shown above, the reasons for calling can differ significantly from one to the next. Reasons can include: wanting to order a booklet or resource; needing advice on employment and benefits; asking about their nearest support group; needing advice on travel insurance or medical alert materials; requesting to be given a telephone buddy; a family member wanting advice on how to support their loved one; a newly diagnosed patient wondering where to turn and needing to know what support is available; or very commonly; somebody calling because they just want to talk to someone who understands. Callers can often be upset, distressed and anxious so having someone answer the phone with calm reassurance is so valuable.
The operators are equipped with the information and skills that they can use to support the caller in the best way for their situation, but whenever this isn’t possible, they can signpost to someone more appropriate who can help, for example, medical questions are directed to our Endocrine Specialist Nurse.
Calls can vary in length- some are short, for brief requests whilst others can last almost an hour. The length of the call doesn’t matter, but the help offered to them does.
Comments from our volunteers
- “Being a Helpline Operator gives me a real sense of purpose. It’s hugely rewarding helping people in their pituitary journey. I love it!”
- “Despite the thanks and appreciation I get from callers I still sometimes wish there was more I could do to help them”
- “As a Helpline operator and a telephone buddy I receive calls on all sorts of topics. Sometimes the best thing I can give people is reassurance. There have been callers who have just been diagnosed with a pituitary tumour and are very worried, asking “Will I survive until Christmas?” They feel very relieved when I tell them I was diagnosed in 1996 and I am still going strong”
We have lots of feedback provided about our Helpline service. Some recent examples are:
- “I feel so much better after talking….It is good to know I am not the only one”
- “The operator I spoke to was so lovely, looked up a good endocrinologist and suggested I call the nurse for further help. Very friendly, very helpful, explained a few things to me, and didn’t seem to rush me off the phone, all in all a very pleasant experience”
- “The operator was kind, patient, understanding, friendly and warm. They had a wealth of knowledge and information, and left me feeling that I am not alone helping my husband deal with his macro adenoma.”
- “I had nowhere to turn, no help, no information. I know the conditions associated with the pituitary gland are complicated but all I wanted was some clear information. After speaking to the helpline operator today, I feel so much better and reassured”
On behalf of all of The Foundation, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Helpline Operators for the support and kindness that they provide to callers on a weekly basis, whether that be patients, partners, parents, or carers. We are forever grateful for your commitment – thank you!