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.
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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