As a therapeutic radiographer in a busy NHS hospital, Rebecca has a range of responsibilities. Find out how her degree in radiotherapy prepared her for the role
What degree did you study?
I graduated with a BSc Radiotherapy from Birmingham City University in 2019.
How did you get your job?
As I neared the end of my degree I began applying for entry-level jobs. For my current job, I completed an application form accompanied by a personal statement. I was then invited to interview.
What's a typical working day like?
Before patients arrive, quality assurance tests are carried out on each machine. I then spend the day working in a team treating patients with cancer in many areas of the body, including the brain, bones and lungs.
Each specialised treatment requires accurate set-ups and patient positioning, achieved through the use of lasers and tattoos on the body. Treatment set-ups usually go smoother if patients are relaxed, so talking to patients is a big part of the job as well as the technical aspects. Before delivering treatment we take quick CT scans of patients as a final check to ensure treatment accuracy.
Additional responsibilities include talking to patients before they begin treatment to explain the procedure and answer any questions (of which there are usually many), helping patients manage side effects and, where appropriate, referring patients to other healthcare professionals, for example dietitians. Technical troubleshooting is also sometimes required.
I might also be involved in carrying out pre-treatment CT scans and tattooing patients requiring treatment, which can then be used to make their treatment plan (something else radiographers are involved in).
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the mixture of patient care and technical requirements. I find the treatment machines and how they are used to deliver complex treatments really interesting but also really enjoy the personal aspect of the job. As patients attend treatment for a number of days, I can take the time to get to know them and potentially make a difference at a really hard time in their life.
What are the challenges?
Although the majority of patients attending radiotherapy are treated with radical intent (intent to cure), there are some patients who attend for palliative treatment as part of end-of-life care. These patients can be in a lot of pain, which is sometimes challenging to see. However, in these cases radiotherapy is prescribed to help manage pain so you may be causing some discomfort but overall the treatment should still help the patient.
In what way is your degree relevant?
Extremely relevant. My degree included modules covering the technical aspects of the profession such as physics, anatomy and oncology, and how the treatment machine works, as well as holistic care modules aimed at giving me the skills to deal compassionately with patients.
As part of my degree I spent a large amount of time on clinical placements where I learned how to put this knowledge into practice. I also underwent clinical assessments.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
I have not been in my role long, but since starting I have spent time building on my knowledge and skills from university and gaining experience treating a number of areas of the body. I have also had the opportunity to spend time learning new techniques I had not previously experienced.
I have yet to rotate through the department thoroughly, but look forward to moving to new areas to expand my role within the department.
What's your advice to others wanting to get into this job?
- Research the profession thoroughly. The Society of Radiographers website can be a good place to look for information.
- Take as many opportunities as you can to learn from others and their experiences. For example, make contact with your local radiotherapy department to see if you would be able to visit for a few hours or a day to get a feel for the job.
- Make sure you can commit to the placement required as part of your degree. Placement sites may not always be close to where you live or study and may not have accommodation available.