Women in healthcare: Meet radiographer Siobhan Graham
August 7, 2018
On a typical day at work, radiographer Siobhan Graham will see about 30 to 40 patients.
Currently working as a radiographer team leader at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Ms Graham is responsible for running one machine within the radiotherapy department where she coordinates patient treatments, ensures the machine is run properly and on time, and oversees a team of junior staff.
The hospital has one of the busiest oncology departments in the south of England and administers radiotherapy treatments that target a range of body sites and intents, including radical and palliative patients.
To work as a radiographer, you need strong interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with patients, Ms Graham said.
“We’re in one of those parts of medicine where we do get that real bond with our patients,” she said.
“If you don’t have that ability to form a relationship, then you are missing an important link.”
Several years’ experience in radiotherapy has allowed Ms Graham to hone this skill, in addition to working in previous jobs that were very people-oriented.
“Knowing how to interact with different age groups is important as well, because patients range from young children to adults,” she said.
“Reading their non-verbal communication is also important – does this patient actually want to talk about what’s going on or are we just trying to get it (the treatment) done? But you find out pretty quickly which type of patient they are, and you have to sometimes change your tact.”
Instilling confidence in patients about what radiographers do, and what the patients expect will happen during treatment, is another essential part of the job, said Ms Graham.
At the cutting edge of medical technology
One of the things that Ms Graham enjoys most about her job is the access to new and improved medical technology.
Queen’s Hospital is the first hospital in the UK to operate a Halcyon radiotherapy machine, and the hospital hopes to become one of the most advanced non-specialist cancer centres in the country.
Varian, the company that produces Halcyon, designed the machine to image and treat a patient in just nine steps.
The machine’s human-centred design also completes treatment faster and offers a more comfortable patient experience.
“It has shortened our treatment time, so increased our throughput. Patient feedback has been excellent – they said it was a smoother and better process for them,” Ms Graham said.
“It’s a better process for staff as well. The machine is easier to navigate, and it tells you what you need to do.”
In June, the hospital received an upgrade on the imaging capabilities of their Halcyon machine.
“It’s almost comparing to diagnostic quality imaging which is fantastic,” Ms Graham said.
“When you’re wanting to make those split-second decisions on a treatment – to say whether that patient is in the right position, and that everything is fine and I can go ahead and treat – to have good quality images just makes the job so much easier.”
Ms Graham has also had the opportunity to learn about the radiation therapy technique called deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH), which aids patients with left-sided breast cancer.
“On the left side, where the heart is close to the treatment field, we know if we give radiation to the heart, even though low doses, the patient gets side effects later in life,” she said.
“By getting the patients to hold their breath while we deliver the radiation, we’re moving the breast tissue away from the heart and we’re now delivering no dose to the heart. It’s improving what we call cardiac toxicity.
“I was involved in the group that implemented that in the department and now we use that technique for all patients that fit our criteria for left-sided breast cancer, and it’s improving their treatment outcomes.”
Collaboration is key
One of the things that Queen’s Hospital encourages is cross-department knowledge sharing and integration of patient treatments, Ms Graham said.
“I like that this department, when they get a procedure in place, they don’t just restrict it to that area. If it is going to have benefits somewhere else, they will roll it out to other sites,” she said.
“In medicine in general, you need to have collaboration and really good communication channels.”
One example of this communication and collaboration is the hospital’s electronic medical records platform, which allows different healthcare professionals to access patient information. For example, doctors don’t have to be in a specific department to access a patient’s notes or comment on treatments.
This collaboration aspect helps healthcare professionals to achieve the best outcomes for their patients, Ms Graham said.
“This hospital has a philosophy called PRIDE: Passion, Responsibility, Innovation, Drive and Empowerment. The idea is that everyone is working together so that we deliver the best care for our patients,” she said.
“And that doesn’t just apply to front-line people like radiographers, it’s acknowledging that the bookings team and medical secretaries are in the pathways as well. There is a lot of behind the scenes work to ensure we are all reaching our targets.”