When an administrator at Cancer Partners UK’s Southampton Centre showed an interest in learning more about the clinical side of things, her manager recognised some untapped talent and helped to develop a supported career pathway that has led to her becoming a qualified assistant practitioner.
Kirsty Paterson had worked in the world of finance for seven years until she was made redundant – at the time a devastating blow, but something she's now glad happened as it was the catalyst that led her to a dramatic change in career.
She 'fell' into healthcare when she took an admin role at Cancer Partners UK’s image guided radiotherapy centre in Southampton, and hasn’t looked back. "I thought the job would tie me over while I looked for something else in the financial sector, but instead it opened me into a new world. I quickly became really passionate about the advanced cancer treatments Cancer Partners UK provides to their patients."
Southampton Centre manager, Gill Boote, recognised Kirsty’s potential, and started to feed her hunger for information, develop her knowledge and adapt her job to include more hands-on work with patients and oncologists. Kirsty had a passion for patient care, and learnt fast, and before long Gill suggested that she should seriously consider taking steps to becoming a qualified radiographer.
Gill explained: "Even when Kirsty first joined us, she showed that she was particularly patient-focused. I could see she was a bright girl with huge potential. She has great ability and cares very much about patients' well-being. Once she began asking more and more technical questions, it became apparent to me she could develop her knowledge in a more structured, academic way."
Cancer Partners UK currently has a clinical radiographic staff of over 30 which is likely to rise to close to 50 by the end of 2013.
Head of radiotherapy, Sarah Hynd, said: "With our close-knit, small teams we can adapt to support each other, and don't have to plough through bureaucracy or cut through red tape to make things happen. We are dedicated to working with our staff to take advantage of development opportunities, from those like Kirsty who are venturing into radiotherapy, to radiographers that are looking for continued professional development and promotion."
Gill, herself a lead radiographer with over 30 years of experience, and Sarah developed a career pathway for Kirsty, incorporating distance-learning studying with Sheffield Hallam University and hands-on clinical experience in the centre. Gill became Kirsty’s clinical assessor and mentor, and Cancer Partners UK funded her courses and paid for study time needed as well as expenses when travelling to Sheffield.
Kirsty said: "I was keen to learn, and was thrilled when Gill and Sarah offered for Cancer Partners UK to support me during my training. It was hard studying and working at the same time, but all my colleagues were incredibly supportive and helped me to gain invaluable practical experience to go alongside my studies."
Two years on, and Kirsty has passed the diploma to become a qualified assistant oncology and radiotherapy practitioner. Gill added: "It has been rewarding to work with Kirsty who is so capable, and is fantastic with our patients. She continues to be very keen, asking pertinent questions and brings a great deal to the Southampton team."
Not one for complacency, Kirsty is already working on a bridging module, and will be doing a final year with Sheffield Hallam University to gain a BSc degree and become a fully-fledged radiographer. Lead radiographer at Cancer Partners UK's Little Aston Centre, Helen Roadway, has a wealth of technical knowledge and experience working on evidence-based practice, and will be joining Gill in supporting and mentoring Kirsty during this final year.
While the vast majority of radiographers train through the traditional path of a degree followed by post-graduate training, the Society and College of Radiographers values the wealth of experience the profession gains from this alternative route of training. The Society’s professional officer, Louise Coleman, said: "Diversity of entry into the profession is welcomed and brings many benefits. Breadth of experience, life skills and a variety in previous academic achievement benefit the service being provided, which ultimately benefits patients."
Kirsty concluded: "I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and, looking back, being made redundant from the finance industry was the best thing that could have happened to me. Without that, I don't think I'd have considered working in a medical field – it's just not something I ever considered.
"I've had some fantastic support from my colleagues and am now doing a job which I love. The best thing is the contact with the patients. We get the time to talk with them, and get to know each and every one of them, their particular needs, concerns, anxieties and interests. It’s great to be part of a team that makes such a difference to people’s lives."