During the Second World War, in spite of parental disapproval, Saunders trained at the Nightingale School of Nursing at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, now part of King’s Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care. She then became a hospital almoner – the equivalent of a social worker today – and met a Polish man who changed the course of her life.
Patient David Tasma was a Jewish refugee from the Warsaw ghetto, and was dying of cancer. Towards the end of his life, he and Saunders discussed the creation of a home-like environment, offering hope and comfort to dying patients. When David passed away, he left Saunders a sum of money to Saunders, to help make their vision a reality.
Saunders developed the concept that end-of-life environments should pay attention to people’s social, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs, achieved by "a team who work together to relieve where they cannot heal, to keep the patient's own struggle within his compass and to bring hope and consolation to the end".
She also advocated a systematic approach to symptom control, contradicting contemporary hospital practice of inadequate, infrequent morphine injections, leaving many patients in uncontrolled pain.