Real-life story - Sairanne Wickers

Sairanne's interest in science, technology and people meant a career in therapeutic radiography was ideal. 

Consultant radiographer smiling
Sairanne Wickers Consultant breast radiographer (radiotherapy)
Employer or university University College London Hospitals (UCLH) NHS Foundation Trust
Salary range £55k-£65k

How I got into the role

I had always been interested in science at school and college and knew that I wanted to work in a clinical profession, just not as a doctor or nurse. I started researching the allied health professions and came across therapeutic radiography. The combination of biology, physics and being able to help those people suffering from cancer sounded really interesting. I spent a couple of weeks in a radiotherapy department meeting the staff and patients. This is when I knew this is what I wanted to do.
I qualified as a therapeutic radiographer after completing the three year degree course at the University of Portsmouth. Despite the packed weeks of lectures and long hours on clinical placement, the prospect of leaving university with a vocational degree, a professional qualification, clear direction and great job prospects made it all worth it. I haven't regretted it for second.

What I do

In a typical day, I may get a referral for a patient who has recently had surgery for breast cancer and requires post-operative radiotherapy. In my new patient clinic, I meet very anxious patients and their families, and try to reassure them about the radiotherapy treatment, discuss the side effects, and support them in their post-diagnosis recovery. All patients require a radiotherapy-specific CT scan which aids the planning of their individualised radiotherapy treatment. Using a touch-screen computer, I identify the areas of the patient's body that needs targeting with radiotherapy, and those tissues or organs that need to be avoided.
I have loved all of the roles I have worked in within radiotherapy, from a newly qualified treatment radiographer and then a planning superintendent, to my current role as a consultant breast radiographer. Everybody in this profession really cares, and it’s all about teamwork. Every day I have the opportunity to make a difference to those affected by cancer. Their thank you letters are always lovely to read.
To reach my current level of consultant radiographer, it has taken lots of hard work, some luck, and great managers who have invested in my development. 

The best bits and challenges

Contributing my knowledge and skills to the multidisciplinary team to help give patients the best possible chance of surviving breast cancer is amazing. It is fantastic to see the ever increasing number of breast cancer survivors. Being able to offer support to patients and their families at a very difficult time is one of the best bits of my role.  
Some of the most challenging elements of my role are technical, for example can I achieve the best from our multi-million pound equipment to keep side effects to a minimum? It can also be difficult to support patients in overcoming their fears of radiotherapy, to ensure that they have the best possible chance of breast cancer control. In some ways, a major challenge I face is that many people do not know what radiotherapy is. With 50% of patients diagnosed with cancer requiring radiotherapy, this still surprises me. Everyone knows about doctors and nurses, but few have ever heard of therapeutic radiographers, or understand our crucial role in the treatment of cancer. 

Top tips for others

Therapeutic radiography really is a highly rewarding profession with great career prospects but you need certain skills and qualities to be successful. If I had to pick three qualities, they would be:

  • being highly motivated

  • having a caring attitude

  • being interested in people

If you have these, there are opportunities to specialise and work at a highly autonomous level.

If I had one bit of advice before applying, it would be to visit a radiotherapy department. Meet the people you'll be working with and the patients you'll be caring for. It is really inspiring.

Striking a work/life balance

I have a young family which means work/life balance can be a challenge. I want to be a role model to my children, so they have visited me at work a couple of times to see what I do (and also where I disappear to four days a week). My four-year old daughter is already saying that she wants to 'help make poorly people better' when she is older. This makes it all worthwhile. My children have seen the impact of cancer first-hand, having lost their grandmother a few years ago. They understand about bad cells, and how it's my job to help to kill them so that hopefully my patients will get better.
Learning to separate your work life from your personal life is important. When I am at work, I am here for my patients, and when I am at home, I am there for my family. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, for example, when your toddler gets chicken pox and you live 200 miles from any family to lend a hand; or when a patient that you've been looking after for many years receives a diagnosis that the cancer has spread, you can’t help but take a little of that sadness home with you. However, radiotherapy and being a radiographer is all about team work, and together we deliver a great service to our patients, develop our knowledge and skills, and feel motivated in our roles.
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