Russell Fichett is an Advanced Practice Therapeutic Radiographer at Norfolk and Norwich University Foundation Trust.
Everyone in working for the NHS does amazing work at keeping the nation healthy, including Russell. His work with cutting-edge computer software and his research changes the lives of patients with cancer and he is always developing his skills to increase patient services.
Can you give some examples of what you do in a typical day or week?
A typical week for me revolves around the two strands of my professional role as a pre-treatment Therapeutic Radiographer and a Researcher.
Radiotherapy uses high energy X-ray beans to kill cancer cells. As a Therapeutic Radiographer, I work in the planning section of the radiotherapy department. This is usually the first time a patient will visit the department and where they will have a CT scan.
Using this data, we use complex computer software to model how the radiation will interact with the patient’s body. We then choose the best arrangement of beams to deliver a high radiation does to the tumour, but spare the health organs. The computer modelling process can often take several days to complete, but is meticulously checked, approved by the consultant doctor, and is the basis of every daily treatment the patient will have.
On a typical day in pre-treatment, I might give patients information about their treatment, assist with a patient’s CT scan, assist doctors to identify the precise area of the patient’s body to treat, and use computer software to model patients’ treatments.
The other side of my role is helping to set up and administer research that involves radiotherapy in the hospital I work. This may be large, national or international clinical trials, or smaller scale developmental and service improvement projects. I conduct my own research where possible, help other radiographers with their research, and present our work at conferences and study days.
Administering clinical trials means that I have to make sure all the patients on a particular trial are treated according to its protocol. Sometimes, clinical trials introduce new ways of giving radiotherapy, so I have to organise and deliver the appropriate training to our radiographers.
What do you enjoy most and least about your work?
People often think it must be difficult working with cancer patients everyday, but planning and delivering the best treatment possible is very rewarding. Because Therapeutic Radiographers see patients on a daily basis for up to seven weeks, there is a real opportunity for us to develop a relationship and offer genuine support at a difficult time. The ‘behind-the-scenes’ work of computer modelling a patient’s radiotherapy allows us to use cutting-edge technology and continually look for better ways to treat cancer.
The worst side of the role is the stretched resources. Unfortunately, more people are suffering with cancer and there are shortages in staff and equipment. We try to counter this with a real commitment to team working, flexibility, and service improvement. The research and clinical trial I work on are geared towards making the system more efficient and offering better outcomes for patients.
How did you get into your current career?
I studied for a three year Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Therapeutic Radiography in London. There are 14 different universities offering a degree course in Therapeutic Radiography (Radiotherapy) and even more offering degrees in Diagnostic Radiography (Imaging).
I was lucky enough to work for three large, London teaching hospitals and gained further experience in a private clinic. I was able to travel to New Zealand and worked in Auckland for two years before returning to England. Radiography is a great skill to have if you wish to work overseas.
I have worked for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for over ten years. During this time, I have studied for a Post-graduate Diploma through an online, distance learning course. I have been awarded a National Instituter for Health Research studentship to study for a Master’s degree in Clinical Research.
Continuous professional development is mandatory for the radiography profession, but there are numerous conferences, study days, and course available to help keep up-to-date with technological advances and improvements in patient care.
What advice would you give someone starting out in your career?
My advice for anyone who is thinking about Therapeutic Radiography as a career is to visit a local radiotherapy centre. In my experience, managers and staff are more than happy to show potential students around. It helps if you can spend half a day watching what goes on and figuring out if it’s for you. Not everyone is suited to a hospital environment and many people don’t realise how busy a radiotherapy department can be.
Also, contact the nearest university offering a radiography course and speak to students who are in-training to find out exactly what you would be doing each day. Other than that, it’s important to have a background in science and an aptitude for working with the public.
What are your future career plans?
I would like to undertake a PhD and conduct a large study to improve patient experience of radiotherapy as much as possible.
A massive thank you to Russell for sharing your story and detailing how you got where you are today.
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