My experience – Therapeutic Radiography at City

Maintaining balance & staying focused


With only 2 months left of my degree I am on the home straight and it’s only 6 weeks until I go to Australia for my elective placement!!! My excitement is somewhat inhibited by the vast amount of work that I have to complete. I have been trying to organise myself on a day to day basis with the use of my time planner but with stress starting to take over and procrastination becoming more prevalent something had to change. It started pretty simply a couple of weekends ago with the Oxford, Cambridge boat race on the Thames. This is an event I have attended pretty regularly over the past 3 years but I had originally said I couldn’t make it as I had so much uni work to do. With the sun shining I decided that I didn’t want to be stuck inside and my housemate made the very good point that I would probably spend most of the day sitting on the sofa thinking about what I had to do! So I went and spent the afternoon in the sun with friends, chilled, forgot about assignments, and had a cracking day! My sister is very much into essential oils, meditation, and generally being a bit of an earth mother so she ordered me to use some oils to help me focus and also instructed me to start using mantras or affirmations which I kind of thought was a bit silly. However, I started slowly with a plan of what to complete by the end of the week and a daily plan of how to get there which has actually evolved into daily affirmations. I have never been the fittest of individuals but I know that exercise helps with my general mental wellbeing so I dusted off the running shoes and started getting out early in the mornings and jogging round the park and I have even found myself doing some yoga which is really helping.

I suppose the message I want to get across guys is that balance is so important. It is easy to get yourself bogged down and into that vicious cycle of worrying about work, procrastination, and stress. Keeping yourself healthy by trying to eat well, doing some exercise, and taking some time to spend with friends and family really help to ensure a clear and focused mind which is key to writing good, concise, scientific essays. I would definitely say the few hours I have spent on work in the last week have been more constructive and conducive to getting my portfolio finished off and my first draft of my literature review completed. With the Easter holidays coming up I am also motivated to get a large portion of work done so I can enjoy some time with my friends.

The time has come, job applications!


Navigating through life as a final year student has had its fair share of obstacles and I have been so busy that writing a personal statement wasn’t really a main priority but something simmering in the back of my mind that I should get round to. Well thank goodness for my department having mock interviews complete with a mock application to begin the process. Two weeks ago I finally completed THE PERSONAL STATEMENT and apparently it wasn’t too shabby! The good thing is that now I have a decent one I will just have to tweek it for each specific department’s job description when jobs come up. Some really good advice was to ensure that every point listed on the person specification of the job advertised has been covered and that I included some information about the department and why I want to begin my career there. I also tried to link my personality traits to the core values of the NHS.

I have also got myself on the NHS jobs website to alert me to radiotherapy jobs within the UK. I know most people from my degree will want to stay in London so I figure, although it would be nice to stay in London with my life already set here, realistically to get a job straight after graduating I need to cast the net just that little bit further. I forgot things after 6 weeks not being in a department nevermind a few months. I really don’t want to hang around, so for me the logical decision is to move out of London as hard as it may be to leave behind friends. I have worked hard these past 3 years, I am ready to start the next chapter with my new career!

With the last 3 months of uni to go assignments and assessments are also looming and like normal I have left things a little last minute, my clinical assessment is this week, as is a meeting for my final literature review. I believe it’s time for my infamous time planning complete with wall chart just so I am aware of deadlines. But that will have to wait as like I said I have my clinical assessment this week and I need to be on the ball. A little bit of advice for all you prospective students and 1st and 2nd years… be on the ball with your anatomy, chemo regimes and tolerance doses! Believe me you will love yourself a little bit when it comes down to the wire. Don’t be like me struggling to cram it all in last minute! I have faith in myself that I am a caring individual and that I have the knowledge base but like the feedback from my mock interview reiterated I need to use more specific radiotherapy terminology in answers and I feel this would come with better knowledge around key concepts. So that is what I am focusing on and will have to keep focusing on until I get a job, but realistically throughout my career.

Student Life: Fitting into a Radiotherapy Department


A large proportion of any health care degree is time spent on placement in an NHS or private department setting. This can be a daunting experience regardless of your confidence or background. As a student changing departments a few times a year it can be especially hard fitting in with an established radiotherapy team. As well as trying to remember theory learned at uni and putting it into practice, we have to think about the impression that we are making on both patients and the radiotherapy team. Do we seem helpful? Are we asking enough questions? Are we communicating with patients appropriately?  Do patients feel comfortable around us? Do our colleagues like us?! All of these questions are constantly going through our heads especially in our first placements when everything seems a bit daunting. The thing is, the impression we make on these placements could make a difference as to whether we get employed at the end of our 3 years of hard work so it’s all pretty important and definitely can all feel a bit overwhelming.

My advice to people is work to your strengths and everyone’s are different. For me, my strength lies in my confidence in communicating and relaying information. My academic knowledge is not the best and I don’t pretend to know things that I don’t. I try my hardest to listen when other students are asking questions I never even thought to, and MAKE NOTES! Make notes for everything, even if you think you will remember it tomorrow. I make a conscious effort to chat to patients about their general life but also how they are coping with their treatment. Another way to aid in fitting into a team is finding out about the professionals you are learning from. Sit with them at breaks and for lunch. Yes it’s uncomfortable but push yourself out of your comfort zone. Placement isn’t just about learning the theory it’s about learning how to do the job of a radiographer and that goes far deeper than delivering radiotherapy.

Presentations done!

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It’s January. I have spent a substantial amount of time in the University library. My eyes are like computer screens and I never want to look at Microsoft powerpoint again. My plan to get everything done before Christmas fell by the wayside and everything was very much DON’T DO IT! Although that being said I had a really good festive period. Presentations went well for me, I think, but practice especially for the group presentations, it was really obvious who had practiced and who hadn’t when we listened to each others’. The rationale for us having so many presentations as opposed to exams lies in what we will be doing once we are qualified which, for me as a mature student, I love as my exam technique is definitely not what it once was.

Celebrations for ending the exam period were somewhat short lived as the next day we were back into Health Policy lectures and we also have an interprofessional learning day with speech and language therapy. The key to health courses is interprofessional working. NHS trusts are hot on it and it makes up a large proportion of our placement portfolio work. Potential employers love to hear the term so any chance you get to attend an event or lecture is important to take it up; as we’re learning in our final year it looks good on your personal statement and these small things all go towards being more employable than your peers at the end of the year.

Lecturers have all started asking us if we are applying for jobs and although I always had the intention of getting into the race early, all of our other work still needs to be done and job applications seem to be getting pushed down an ever increasing list. Again it would appear time management is crucial! With all that said, I have done something pretty exciting this month…. I booked my flights for my elective placement down under, so come the end of May I will be in Australia for 5 weeks!! Woohoo! This is something I have been talking about since my 1st year so getting that booked makes graduating seem that much closer! So with that in mind my to do list for this week involves drafting some kind of personal statement for job applications. Watch this space for some handy hints as hopefully by my next blog post I will have completed a few applications and will have a better idea of what to include in a personal statement!

Keeping on track: Christmas vs Uni Work


So it’s the Christmas break. Placement and academic study has officially finished for 2016 and it’s the festive season so the last thing on my mind is my holistic care presentation or my review article. I have spent the last 2 weeks doing as much paid work as I could and getting into the festive season with friends, tis the season to be merry and all that! There is one small problem with this…. deadlines aren’t going away and I the longer I go without doing work the harder it is going to be to get back into it. I know this because this is 3rd year, I know by this point what I am like and apparently I work best under pressure so for some reason I seem to leave everything to the last minute. So today I decided to try and get some kind of order and plan for getting this work done and meeting my deadlines. I made a bit of a timetable, I have now broken down what needs to be done and set myself days ahead of time that I am going to set aside to do the work. I need to be honest with myself…. I know that the 4 days I am back home in Northern Ireland for Christmas are out and New Years Eve and day are out too but apart from that all systems will have to be go.

As part of a healthcare degree there is a large component of group work and my holistic care presentation falls under the group work category, so although I may want to leave things to the last minute, that isn’t possible. This is not just about me, I need to think about the rest of my group and ensure that I keep up to date with them. Maybe spending the best part of an hour making this excel spreadsheet of work plans was just procrastination but I think it helps to have a schedule to stick to and time periods to do things. Almost like giving myself that last minute pressure without it actually being last minute. It really can be hard to motivate yourself regardless of how old you are, how much study you have done, how academic you are, or how much free time you have. I am a queen of creating excuses for myself. Today it was the gym, yesterday it was a late night on Sunday and having to work last night. Tomorrow who knows what it will be. What I do know is that I work best at the library as I have less distractions there so getting up early and heading into uni as if I am heading to work for the day works really well for me. And that age old piece of advice to be organised is definitely ringing true. Armed with my spreadsheet, new pukka pad, new pens, folder with dividers and a printout of my presentation and presentation guidelines tomorrow I will be in the library for 9am and will hopefully be making a sizeable dent on what needs to be done (for that module anyway!). After Christmas will come the review article and again I have quite a sizeable amount of work to do for that as procrastination has been the spice of my life since mid November when I last looked at my articles to be reviewed. I will let you guys know how I get on, in the mean time Merry Christmas!!!

The Placement Far Far Away!


So the time finally came to be exiled to a far off land in search of more experience. Maybe I am being slightly dramatic. This month I spent 3 weeks at one of our placement sites at a seaside Essex town. As the commute would have taken me well over 3 hours I decided against a 5am start and opted to book myself in to some hospital accommodation which looked very similar to my student accommodation circa 2004!

My mission was clear, spend 3 weeks here and learn as much as I could about Elekta machines. (There are 2 main types of Linear Accelerators used in radiotherapy and I have been trained using Varian.) I spent Monday to Friday in Essex and traveled back to London at the weekends to work at my glamorous pub job. I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to this 3 week stint but I used ‘more experience’ as my mantra in the weeks leading up. It’s so easy to get comfortable in a base site that you spend a large portion of your placement time at, but with hindsight it’s important to get out of your comfort zone to enhance your learning. I only have positive things to say about my placement in a far off destination! The department was busy so I got to really work on my skill set and get some core competencies signed off and the fact I can now use a different machine is going to make me that little bit more employable when I graduate (I hope?!). The staff at the department were great at integrating me into their team and 2 City graduates from the year above me were also recently employed so it was great to see them with jobs. Again helping me see the light at the end of the tunnel… That could be me next year!

I’m not going to lie it wasn’t all roses. Working in Essex during the week and working in London on weekends was tiring. I also thought I would use my evenings during the week to get some of my assignments started… that didn’t happen. I came back at the end of my 3 weeks pooped with a great knowledge of Netflix! Even with the best of intentions and not many distractions, spending all day in placement trying to take in as much as you can leaves very little brain power to come in and do work in the evenings. So like I said in my last blog, it’s so important to start assignments early.

The hospital also treated more inpatients than other departments I had been to on placement before and I quite often helped the porters go and get patients to bring them down for their radiotherapy. This meant I saw some really sick patients which I’m not going to lie was hard, but I also got to see what other professionals do for our patients, the multi-disciplinary approach that is so prominent in our lectures and learning outcomes. But shout out to the nurses out there. You are truly awesome and the unsung heroes of the medical profession.

I have now finished my placement block for term 1 and have academic (lectures in uni) right up until our Christmas break. It’s weird to think the next time I am in placement will be February and I will only have 4 months left of my degree!!!

Life as a Radiotherapy Student: Welcome to Final Year!

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Signing up to a healthcare degree you know what to expect; slightly longer academic years than other degree programmes and a shorter than average summer break… this year at just over 3 weeks, mine went by in a whirl! (Yes, this was a bit shorter than what you’d usually get … that’s because I had placement hours to make up… Note to you all… keep up with the 95% attendance rule) But I used those precious weeks away from uni to work and save some money for the upcoming year, no awesome summer travel plans for me this year, but I am on the home stretch, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

So now it is the 3rd year we’ve hit the ground running! Straight into lessons for the first two weeks and now I am back on placement, but you know what, I love it!

I can see myself getting more competent and confident and the staff in the department are constantly challenging me but also reminding me of how well I am doing. That’s the thing with a degree that is so placement heavy, you learn practically so all that theory you are learning and picking up you are using straight away. I know I still have a long way to go and I am still met with the same brain tiredness I had at the end of the day in my 1st year but I really do feel like it’s all going to be worth it! Don’t get me wrong… the self-doubt still creeps in at times! I am on a CT placement at the moment so it is anatomy central and I have realised I need to brush up on that! It may be the same profession but scanning patients for treatment planning is a completely different ball game to treating them which is what I was doing for the previous 3 weeks. But again, it may seem tough in the moment, but that in itself is another reason why I love Radiotherapy…. There are so many dimensions to the job that it constantly challenging you… I doubt I am ever going to get bored of this job like I have in others!

Something else that we have been asked to organise over the last few weeks is our elective placement. For once I was ahead of the game getting this sorted and started contacting people back in May. Having spent quite a lot of time in Australia in my 20s and having my niece and sister out there I had always intended to try and do some work experience in either Melbourne or Sydney so our electives are my perfect opportunity. I made contact with a past lecturer who was amazing and put me in contact with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Fingers crossed everything works out as it looks like an amazing facility and I think I will learn a lot there. The plan is to head out there after I have handed in all my final projects and portfolio for 3-4 weeks!

It may sound like I am pretty busy but in reality I have been taking it a bit too easy though these last few weeks, concentrating on getting my groove back with placement… the truth is, I need to pull my finger out! With a group presentation, poster presentation, and an article presentation all due just after Christmas the work load is starting to pile up. The problem is that I am a bit of a social butterfly so between placement, part-time work and seeing friends I think I have been putting academic on the back burner…. Things are going to have to change and I think it will have to be this weekend 🙁

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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