Should I Make a Career Change into the End of Life Space?

2 min Article
The pandemic has changed many of our priorities, encouraging some to consider becoming a death doula
Should I Make a Career Change into the End of Life Space?

The pandemic has had many of us reevaluating the type of work we take on and whether it’s worth the trade-offs that may have crept-up along the way as we built our careers. I know of a former colleague from a top tech company where we both worked, who recently gave notice she'd be leaving her position. Instead of moving onto another role, she's moving out of the country, to her husband's homeland of Australia. They've sold their house, their belongings, and are taking their two children on the adventure they'd always dreamt of but thought impractical. The experience of living through the pandemic has refined their life's focus, as many of us have gained similar clarity in the ever-present shadow of mortality.

A Marketplace report, "Reevaluating your career? You’re not alone" by Kristin Schwab, profiled one woman, Karina Totah, who came to a similar conclusion. After spending "more than a decade watching her father suffer from progressive supranuclear palsy or PSP, a rare brain disorder," she came across the death doula community. Watching her own "family disagree about how to handle her father’s end-of-life care," she determined she'd leave her job in order to support others facing a similar situation. “I remember writing the goodbye email to my colleagues and I barely mentioned the sort of end-of-life thing because I knew it would freak people out,” she said.

Burgeoning Death Doula Community

Death doulas are a relatively new profession, based on age-hold practices and analogous to the historied success of birthing doulas, or practitioners who lend comprehensive mental, physical, and emotional support to new mothers during the prenatal, birthing, and postnatal process. Similarly, death doulas support individuals and their families with the end of life experience, especially helpful in scenarios where a terminal illness is an ever-present part of the family’s lived experience. Today, death doulas are certified only by the program where they train, which provides a low barrier to entry, but results in a lack of standardization across practitioners. Training runs between $750-$3,000, and in some scenarios can be completed in only a few days.

Dealing with death, though, is a deeply felt experience. Considering a career as a death doula should come with early and extensive research into the types of issues individuals and families will look to address, as well as the often-challenging scenarios death doulas may find themselves in. Once training is complete, doulas charge on an hourly basis, with rates averaging between $25-$100 per hour. Death doula services are not yet covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare, although hospice centers may offer doula services as a part of their overarching treatment and support package.

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As noted in the Marketplace report, "the pandemic has given people a lot of time to think about what they do for a living ... office workers are facing boredom, health care workers are facing burnout, and all of us are facing mortality. And these challenges can make people reevaluate our values and identities, and push us to take chances." While the work of a death doula can be emotionally intense and taxing, it is also one of the most satisfying professions one can take part in. Those who have a strong inclination toward service-oriented work may find becoming a death doula profoundly rewarding, far exceeding its paycheck.

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Header Photo: LPETTET/E+/Getty Images

About the Teacher

Eleanor Cleverly

Eleanor Cleverly

I joined the End of Life Collective team as Business Lead in 2021. I've spent a good part of my career working on initiatives designed to create meaningful impact on both individual lives and broader communities. Upon meeting Michael Hebb, I gained greater awareness of how potent and powerful end of life conversations can be and am grateful for the opportunity to take my past experience and infuse it with the profound work undertaken at Roundglass. From 2017-2021, I worked at Amazon, leading initiatives across advertising, retail operations, supply chain, and HR. Prior to moving to Seattle in 2016, I lived in Boston for three years, part of which was spent at Harvard's Kennedy School—there I worked on a research project (Sustain Arts) that delved into sustainable business models for arts and cultural organizations. I also spent two years at The Boston Globe leading aspects of their digital media portfolio. I have a Masters in Media Studies from The New School, and during my six years in NYC, I worked as a writer, designer, marketer, and researcher, with a four-year tenure as Assistant Director of Harmony Labs, a think tank focused on understanding the impact narrative media has on decisive social issues. I'm a good mix of homebody and adventurer. I subscribe to far too many home and architecture magazines for a person who does not own a home. I love a good meme, but I've been self-disciplined enough not to download Tik-Tok :)

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