As a therapeutic radiographer working in a busy hospital, Sarah's work has both its challenges and rewards. Find out more about her job and how she plays a vital role in saving people's lives
How did you get your job?
I studied for a BSc (Hons) Radiotherapy and Oncology at Sheffield Hallam University. During the final few months of the course, I applied for the role of therapeutic radiographer at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham via NHS Jobs. I was invited for interview and was successful, as long as I passed my course.
What's a typical working day like?
Each day, before treating patients, we have to do quality assurance to ensure all the treatment machines are working correctly, which takes about 30 minutes. Each patient has his or her own individual treatment plan and each treatment machine can see 30 to 50 patient per day.
When treating patients, we must ensure that they are in the same position as they were when the treatment was planned. Once this has been thoroughly checked, we then treat the patient. This can take anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. We are always monitoring the patient from outside the treatment room on CCTV cameras.
We're also responsible for ensuring that the patient is coping well with treatment and act as a listening ear if they're struggling emotionally. This means that it can be hard to keep appointments running on time, as we don't like to rush patients and want them to have the most positive experience that they can while they are on treatment.
When I'm not treating patients, I catch up on paperwork, check images, manage the diary, speak to patients who may need extra support, and talk to new patients who are starting their treatment.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The most rewarding part is knowing that I am making a difference to people's lives.
I also love that I can bring a smile to people's faces when they come for treatment every day. No one wants to have to come for radiotherapy, but if I can make it a little easier, then that means the world to me.
What are the challenges?
So many people don't actually understand what radiotherapy is. Even when patients come for their first treatment, we often end up explaining exactly what radiotherapy is and does, and reassuring them that they are not radioactive.
It can be hard sometimes when a patient and their family are upset or distressed but we work in such great teams of healthcare professionals that we can ensure we are supporting both the patient and each other.
How is your degree relevant?
The degree is specific for this job, as you need to take an HCPC-approved therapeutic radiography training programme in order to be able to practise in the UK.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
Radiotherapy is an ever-changing field, with technological advances occurring all the time. I'm therefore constantly updating my skills to ensure that I keep up to date with the latest treatments.
I'm passionate about so many aspects of my role, but I would love to progress to becoming a review radiographer, where I can offer more specialist advice to patients on a one-to-one basis.
What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?
- Do your research - arrange to spend some time in a radiotherapy department so that you can get a feel for what happens.
- Ask questions - there are so many people out there who would be willing to have their brains picked about this career, so reach out to universities that offer the course and ask if you can be put in touch with someone.
- Volunteer somewhere - having experience with speaking to patients and the public in general will stand you in good stead for this job. Building relationships with patients and those people important to them is key to this job.