BSc. Graduate Profile
After studying radiation therapy in Trinity College Dublin and graduating in 2010 I now work as a Radiation Therapist in an Irish Hospital. My position requires me to work as part of a four-person unit delivering safe and accurate radiation treatment to patients suffering from cancer.Graham Kelly
Our primary tool in treating our patients’ cancer is the medical linear accelerator or linac. This is a complex machine that allows us to deliver a radiation dose to a tumour in any part of the body. This is done via a series of beams in conjunction with shielding to spare as much healthy surrounding tissue as possible. On an average day, one of the members of my team will carry out mechanical tests on the linac to ensure that it is safe and ready to use. Once all these examinations are complete, patients may be treated.
A minimum of 2 radiation therapists must treat a patient. We position the patient on the machine’s couch in the treatment position with the aid of an appropriate immobilisation device. Permanent dots on the patients skin are aligned using a series of fixed laser lights to ensure the patient is in the correct position. We then leave the room and move to the control room to deliver the patient’s treatment. Prior to delivering the treatment we call out and check all the treatment parameters to ensure they are correct and match the patient’s treatment plan.
To verify a patient’s treatment position, x-ray images may be taken using the linac. These are analysed and matched to reference images from the patient’s treatment by the radiation therapists delivering the treatment.
In addition to delivering a patients treatment we also monitor and advise patients on the management of any side effects or concerns that may arise during treatment. We liaise with and work along side other health professionals so to ensure that patient’s side effects and needs are addressed promptly and the impact limited.
Part of the role of a radiation therapist is to rotate throughout all areas in the department. One of these areas is the CT simulator. Before starting treatment patients are given an appointment for the CT simulator. Here patients are set up in a suitable position which will be used for the duration of their treatment using appropriate immobilisation devices. A CT scan is taken; this will be used to plan the dose distribution for the patient’s treatment. We then apply permanent marks to the patient’s skin that will be used to align the patient every day of their treatment. At this stage we also brief patients and their relatives on what their treatment will entail and the management of side effects.
No two days are the same when working as a radiation therapist. Each day is varied and presents new tasks and challenges. This makes for a varied and highly rewarding career.
In 2010, I graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BSc in Radiation Therapy. I initially chose the course as I was interested in the use of Physics in Medicine and particularly in the context of Radiation Oncology. However, as I progressed though the degree I realised I also had a keen interest in both research and a career in academia.
Despite my unconventional career trajectory, the course was an excellent basis for further study in pursuit of a job in academia. Although a lot of my own interests were in the more academic aspects of the course, it was the clinical experience that I found most beneficial. The months of clinical placement provided the opportunity to see how advancements in scientific research can work within a department and impact on patients. There is a need for more research that can be taken from ‘bench to bedside’ but it is a lack of clinical experience that often hinders the translation of laboratory science into the clinical setting. The clinical experience I gained from the BSc in Radiation Therapy made me aware of the gap between research and clinical practice.
After graduating, I read an MSc in Radiation Biology at the University of Oxford. The Radiation Therapy BSc course provided me with a solid foundation of academic knowledge, clinical experience and research expertise to undertake the MSc programme. The knowledge gained from both degrees then led me to pursue a PhD in Medical Physics at German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in conjunction with the University of Heidelberg and Yale University. It is clear that the BSc in Radiation Therapy provided the basis for a future career in academia and a particular interest in clinically relevant research.
I was attracted to the Radiation Therapy course because I enjoyed studying radiation as part of the Leaving Certificate Physics course and I was confident that a career in the discipline would be interesting and challenging. The wide variety of subjects and the opportunity to work in a team and build a relationship with patients also appealed to me.
I graduated from Trinity in 2005 and initially worked as a Radiation Therapist in St. Luke’s Hospital, Dublin. However, I had developed an interest in research as we carried out a research project in our final year. Consequently, I applied for a Trinity research studentship and was awarded funding to pursue a postgraduate research degree.
After completing a Research MSc in 2008 I applied for jobs in clinical trials, as I felt my skills matched a number of job descriptions in this field. I was hired as a Clinical Trial Practitioner at Imperial College London, where I was responsible for identifying patients for oncology clinical trials investigating PET imaging. I decided I would like to move from recruiting patients to coordinating trial activities, as I was keen to face the challenges of larger, multi-centre trials.
In 2010 I was appointed as Clinical Trial Coordinator, once again at Imperial College London. I was responsible for the daily running of a large Phase III breast cancer trial and this required communication with health professionals in over 70 hospitals across the UK.
In both of these roles my knowledge of cancer medicine and my ability to communicate effectively and confidently with patients and health professionals was invaluable. These are skills which are directly attributable to my undergraduate training.
In 2012 I was appointed as Regulatory Affairs Manager at European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) in Brussels. My main responsibilities are preparing clinical trial applications and amendments for submission to ethics committees and competent authorities. I work across a number of tumour sites, so once again my training in cancer medicine has been an asset. Furthermore, team-work, an ability which I developed while on clinical placement, is essential in my current role.
There is no defined career pathway to work in clinical trials, and my current and past colleagues have very varied backgrounds. For me, my undergraduate training has provided a solid foundation for my career in this field.