Case study

Senior therapeutic radiographer — Catherine Connaughton

As a therapeutic radiographer, Catherine enjoys combining her academic learning with patient contact. Find out more about her role and tips for getting into the profession

What degree did you study?

I graduated with a degree in science (pharmacology and physiology) in 2012 before going on to study for the Postgraduate Diploma in Radiation Therapy at London South Bank University (LSBU), graduating in 2016.

How did you get your job?

I interviewed for my first radiotherapy job at the department I did my student placement in. Interviews can be quite competitive, especially for London departments as only a few hospitals have radiotherapy departments. However, in today's climate there is a need for radiographers so there will be more opportunities. I was lucky to have had experience in that department to help with the interview process, but this isn't necessary.

What's a typical working day like?

A typical working day at University College London Hospitals can be varied, ranging from treating patients on the treatment floor to preparing the plans for treatment. Treating patients includes lining patients up to ensure they are on the treatment bed correctly, taking and reviewing images, treating patients and then reviewing them in terms of side effects.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the patient interaction. My first degree was in science but the thought of working in a lab or office all the time didn’t really appeal to me. In this role you can combine your academic knowledge and continue learning with patient contact, which makes the job so much more enjoyable.

Although you meet so many patients throughout a working day, you'll usually see them daily for up to seven weeks and are able to build a relationship. Every patient is different and has different needs, which makes the job interesting.

What are the challenges?  

One of the greatest challenges, as with most healthcare careers, is being affected by a patient's diagnosis. However, I work with a really supportive team and even if a patient's diagnosis means they may not be cured, I know that by delivering radiation I'm making a difference to their quality of life.  

In what way is your degree relevant?

My undergraduate science degree was extremely relevant and it helped with some of the basic anatomy covered in the PgDip. Not everyone doing the PgDip had a background in science, however, but the lectures covered all the necessary anatomy and physics.

The most relevant part of having any previous degree are the skills you develop in how you learn as a lot of postgraduate study involves self-directed learning.

What are your career ambitions?

There are many avenues to go down. In radiotherapy departments you always work with another person, so as a junior you learn a lot quite quickly from their experience. You then can move up in seniority when opportunities arise. In the UK we are lucky to have advanced practice roles, where you can specialise in a specific radiotherapy area. I hope to follow this path.

However, there are also opportunities outside the NHS, with various radiation technology companies, in quality control and in education.

What's your advice to others wanting to become a therapeutic radiographer?

  • Get some experience in a radiotherapy department before you apply for a course. First-hand experience of what the job entails will help you decide if it's the career for you and is also useful in interviews for your course.
  • Radiotherapy is a very small profession so every connection matters. If you know you would like to work in a specific place, contact them directly or arrange an elective placement at a specific hospital.

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