Rachel Y is the research officer and the professional and educational manager for a national radiography professional body. She draws on her experience of being a research radiographer and of completing doctoral study to support other radiographers.
Rachel Y currently works for a national radiography professional body. She joined the organisation as the research officer and also become the professional and educational manager. Before this, she was a research radiographer for 10 years. Rachel Y started her career in therapeutic radiography. A few years in, her manager encouraged her to undertake a Master’s degree in social research. Juggling her job with studying was very hard and, because research training had not been part of her diploma, she initially doubted her research abilities. When Rachel Y gained her degree, her manager suggested she become the research radiographer in the department. The role did not exist at the time and they were both unsure about what it could entail. Although Rachel Y felt she didn’t have a full skill set when beginning the post, she benefitted from a supportive manager with foresight and a department who were really quite excited that we were doing this type of work. She started on a fixed-term contract which was reviewed every three months for two years before being made permanent: [it was] a bit scary [‚] when you’ve got a mortgage, you’re risking it going onto a contract like that. But I had to trust really that it would be okay.
Rachel Y was able to shape her research radiographer post to gain experience of research from inception to publication. As she gained confidence, Rachel Y realised just how exciting it was to be able to ask those questions that had been bugging me ever since I would have been a student [‚] [Research is] an amazing opportunity to be able to look at your practice and then, if need be, change your practice. It was especially rewarding to see improvements for patients. For example, findings from Rachel Y’s Master’s dissertation led to a support group for patients with head and neck cancers being established. Another study Rachel Y worked on helped to alter outdated guidance given to radiotherapy patients which had unnecessarily restricted their skin care activities. In addition to developing her own studies, Rachel Y worked on a few clinical trials, although her responsibilities in these were restricted to data collection.
Rachel Y had been aware of potential resentment from her radiography colleagues about the workload of being one person down when she moved to research. To alleviate this and maintain her clinical skills, Rachel Y occasionally covered staff sickness or helped out at lunchtimes. This could make prioritising her research difficult, but she felt it’s about a bit of give and take. Although not all of her radiography colleagues wanted to carry out research themselves, they were very supportive of her decision and Rachel Y made sure to provide opportunities to those who were keen: every single one of them was involved in something, so they had that on their CV’s and their CPD [Continued Professional Development records]. However, she encountered some negativity from medical colleagues about her suitability, as a radiographer, to undertake research: sometimes I felt like it was a constant fight to be able to hold my own territory on that. She recalled how rugs were pulled from underneath my feet by one medical colleague when she was planning to pursue doctoral study. Although Rachel Y thinks it is easier now to break through those boundaries, she feels that many barriers still exist for allied health professionals and nurses in research, and for women more generally.
In her current role, Rachel Y advises clinical radiographers on conducting research, including aspects such as getting funding and available support. This is a lot of work but Rachel Y finds it rewarding. She felt that, in order to have credibility in her role of advising other radiographers, she needed to complete a doctorate herself: if I’m gonna be giving people advice, then I have to have lived it myself. As with her Master’s, her doctoral studies were partly funded by her employer and she was given time off for the taught elements of her course. Her thesis was a qualitative study on the experiences of consultant radiographers and the reasons why they were not pursuing research.
Rachel Y encourages more radiographers to pursue further study and emphasises the value of research for the profession: you cannot say that you’re doing the best patient care if you don’t know what the best patient care is. [‚] [W]e have to move with that technology and we have to know actually is that working? Is it right?’ And we owe that to our patients. Rachel Y describes research as having become quite embedded in radiography over the years, but she also has some concerns going forwards. For example, she finds that some research radiographers are used only as an image taker in studies and denied opportunities for involvement in other aspects of the research process. In the context of a busy NHS, Rachel Y also worries that research is being dropped from diagnostic departments and that the shortage of radiographers makes it harder for some to move into research. She encourages radiographers interested in pursuing research to learn more about the funding support available to them.