In the words of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, “It’s a man’s world” however in radiotherapy that is not the case. When I started as a student radiographer at the Middlesex Hospital in 1980, I was certainly a rarity and when I sat my DCR finals in a room at Queens Square in London in 1982 there were just two other male radiotherapy radiography students (one whom I am still in contact with to this day and is still working clinically in radiotherapy) from all the London and regional hospitals taking part. I realise things have changed for the better now but I still can’t get the recently announced initiative by Sheffield Hallam University to address the issue of a lack of male therapeutic radiographers out of my head. Added to the recent proposal to ask members of the armed services to step in to stem the flow of shortages in the profession and for CRUK to look to further address the need for far many more in the near future, I wanted to spend more time here evaluating and documenting my thoughts to see if we are missing something.
The question that I keep asking myself and the answer to this I believe will help to fundamentally shape how we get firstly more men into the profession and secondly, 2000 more therapeutic radiographers by 2027.
How did you become student therapeutic radiographer?
1. By accident or by chance
2. By design or planned
POLL AT BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE
If the majority of people get into radiotherapy as part of a long-term plan and wanted to be a therapeutic radiographer, we are doing our job properly, if most people end up in the profession by chance then perhaps, we are not. I am sure there are lots of ways of asking this question but this simple poll might go a long way to tell us where we need focus our attention.
As mentioned in my first blog in January I got into radiotherapy completely by chance when my father was walking home from the BBC with a consultant Neurologist at the Middlesex. They often shared their tube journey into London and my dad was asked if I fancied being a therapeutic radiographer, there were some spaces and I needed to decide in a matter of weeks if so. My A level results were not as I expected and so was essentially “between jobs” but that’s history now and within a few weeks I started and was thrown into the deep end, working in the planning department in my first week.
Being a man in a mainly female environment
One comment that I still remember clearly today for some reason, was put to me in 1981 when working on our only Linac where cleaning and especially dusting the machine regularly was a prophylactic measure to reduce down time and for some reason, on that particular day I was apparently “not dusting well enough” and it was suggested that as a “male” radiography student was dusting below me? This form of reverse sexism, if that is what it was (which according to Wikipedia does or did exist!) was not an issue that greatly worried me and I formed long lasting relationships with many of my female colleagues and even married one!
Once qualified occasionally some patients would ask if they could have a female radiographer rather than be treated by me and on our Mobetron Cobalt Unit where the majority of breast cases where treated our then radiotherapy service manager often put myself and our other male radiographer from New Zealand on the same rota, explaining that they would not get their treatment if they objected to being treated by two men.
Would these issues become more complex as more men come on board and what is now acceptable when it comes to who treats you, I guess religious belief would be one thing that would dictate the sex of your radiographer today.
What can we do?
These are the three articles that need to be considered and were looked at briefly in my October blog (These boots were made for walking…. https://www.radpro.org.uk/2019/10/14/these-boots-were-made-for-walking )
A Cancer Research UK paper published this recently suggested that an 80% growth of therapeutic radiographer is required in 2017 or an additional 2000 people.
A Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) research project has also now been launched to look at how to attract more men to become therapeutic radiographers.
Are you a therapeutic radiographer who was in the armed forces?
Paul Chapman, national programme manager for HEE, said: “We want to encourage people leaving the armed forces to become therapeutic radiographers.
I mentioned in my last blog that the recruitment ideas suggested by SHU were not that ground breaking and while I supported some, the rest seemed to miss the point. Spending a career working in radiotherapy both as a clinician and in the corporate world is a very challenging but extremely satisfying vocation and I still to this day announce the fact proudly when standing in front of a room full of surgeons, clinical oncologists, radiographers, medical physicists and NHS Trust directors presenting my case for starting Intra-Operative Radiotherapy (IORT) that I am a therapeutic radiographer by profession and qualified many years ago!
In fact, in all the radiotherapy businesses I have managed I have always employed radiographers as my primary sales force as I firmly believe that a radiographer trained to sell is a more powerful force than a sales person trained to understand oncology and far less likely to make things up! When you sit one to one with a breast surgeon, they need to know that you are on their side and when you don’t know an answer to a question there is never any loss of face to say that you will find out and get back to them.
The impact of social media on male and female jobs and their perception.
In my blog…The role of a therapy-radiographer in the age of artificial-intelligence I looked at the careers that are in danger of being replaced by AI.
As part of this blog I thought I would look at the most popular jobs for men and then came across this article that shows this based on Tinder swipes instead!
The most attractive jobs in America for men and women, according to Tinder swipes are shown below. You can click on this news item here
and I guess it will be some time until Therapeutic Radiographer floats people’s boats on Tinder perhaps.
How important is your job when determining whether someone swipes right or left on Tinder? Extremely, according to former Tinder CEO Sean Rad.
“I think the thing that has shocked me [in developing Tinder] is that when it comes to establishing an initial impression, there’s a very finite set of things we look at to decide whether we want to have a conversation with someone. “How you look — and what that says about your personality — common connections, career, education. Ninety percent of it comes down to that.”
Interior designers leapfrogged pilots (who were No. 1 on the 2016 list) to take the top spot for men. For women, registered nurses and dentists came in one and two.
For men, founder/entrepreneur fell from No. 2 on the 2016 list to No. 15 on this year’s. Police officer, military, and TV/radio personality dropped off the men’s list altogether. For women, we bid farewell to speech-language pathologist, social-media manager, and real-estate agent, which all dropped from the list.
Model made its first appearance on the men’s list but dropped off the women’s one.
Here’s the full 2018 list:
4.College / Graduate Student
8.Founder / Entrepreneur
10.Waitress / Bartender
15. Marketing Manager
5.PR / Communications
9.College / Graduate Student
14.Firefighter / Paramedic
15.Founder / Entrepreneur
Probably not what you expected?
So how do we get more men to become therapeutic radiographers?
I return to my main hobby horse and would like to see a quicker and fundamental return to vocational training with apprenticeships and a “job for life” approach. This will appeal directly to men alongside commensurate levels of pay and reimbursement for a start.
My worry is that the Society of Radiographers may have spent too much time focusing on ever-expanding the degree course and creating what appear to be enhanced “super-radiographers” who will become part-time clinical oncologists when required rather than look more closely at recruitment, retention and the great male/female divide. Similarly, in the diagnostic world, these super-radiographers who report on images and scans, morphing into radiologists may in fact be contributing to a decrease in their resilience to be taken over by artificial intelligence or AI.
This is where the “80/20 principle” may apply whereby 80% of effort goes into 20% worth of career advances. I would rather see this reversed where 80% is spent focusing on novel recruitment plans and proposals, certainly in the radiotherapy world. I still see many colleagues and friends who have the HDCR qualification and who are in many of the key leading roles still available to radiographers of all specialities and so this career progression obviously worked. Ongoing professional development in all its forms is critical but not at the expense of the basic profession while more needs to be done to increase career resilience to AI in our field.
While I realise that a return to DCR is not going to happen I do sincerely hope the graduate based therapeutic radiographer apprentice scheme is a great success although I am not sure why this has to run alongside the current BSc course that is more university based (50% of time in the hospital) whereas the apprenticeship is designed to be more hospital based (80% of time).
Why not stick with the vocational apprentice scheme which would I am sure lead to more men signing up in the long run and simplify the education of radiographers nationally without the potential bias of two different qualifications as there is today. If this is not possible perhaps someone can tell me why?
The February blog had a detailed update from the SoR on the apprentice scheme and this is worth a second look, it’s located at the end of the blog here.
Sponsored professional panel – Who better to promote a career in radiotherapy for men than men that have spent considerable time doing just that!
I would like to see the creation a professional panel of male therapeutic radiographers to meet a few times next year and brain storm how me might make a real difference to male recruitment and retention from our perspective creating an alternative prospectus and presenting this to the SoR and SHU.
I know many who have spent, similarly to me, much of their working life in radiotherapy clinically and or in the corporate world. Some have experience in running busy radiotherapy centres and others in business management, customer support and sales and marketing whereby a proper “business plan” on this issue could be created and marketed to the appropriate and targeted people and organisations. I would be happy to set this up if asked and so if you agree and want to be on a professional panel with a remit to look at encouraging more male therapeutic radiographers and to write a business plan and alternative prospectus to achieve and deliver this then let me know!
I would also like to see companies, organisations, equipment suppliers and private healthcare providers among others to contribute some limited funding to this professional panel so that money can be spent on delivering our “business plan” to create more male therapeutic radiographers as many benefit directly from using radiographers that otherwise would be working in the NHS.
Some of these companies are excellent at marketing their products and services and as an example, this is an “advert” shown below at Bristol International Airport by the leading and ground breaking Proton Therapy provider Rutherford Cancer Centres. A similar campaign to promote radiotherapy and radiographers would not look out of place and substantially better for attention seeking than Lego Linacs!
Pic: Excellent Rutherford advert at Bristol Airport.
Some other ideas!
When Jamie Oliver decided to take his “Ministry of Food” mantra out to the wider world and to men in particular he presented his beliefs on healthy cooking to football crowds. This is one of the last mainly male strongholds and so would be a natural starting place to attempt to develop male orientated vocations. Off the wall I know but you have to start somewhere!
There are many male radiographers in India and with a suitable recruitment program could help with future supply and demand. I know of one London hospital that has gone down this route and successfully integrated Indian male radiographers into the busy clinical routine for many years. This is a potentially interesting focus especially when working with a professional recruiter and something that I have explored already.
I support this venture but are we actively meeting with the people who directly support the armed forces personnel when they enter civilian life?
There is an Armed Forces covenant that provides direct support with new careers, a service leavers guide and a career transition partnership.
On trying the all the links supplied you can eventually find “therapeutic radiographer” as a career move so that is good but not sure that without very “hands-on” and dedicated direction this will help quickly enough!
We need more radiographers in radiotherapy and we need more men in these roles and I for one support on-going ventures to address these issues as above but feel that many of the people who might be able to make a considerable impact in tackling this problem are not being asked for their input or their skills being used. Why not?
So how did you become student therapeutic radiographer?
1. By accident or by chance
2. By design or planned
The answers to this question will go some way as to evaluating as a starting point, how we might look at alternative ways to change the face of recruitment and retention in radiotherapy from a different perspective.
TO TAKE PART IN THE SIMPLE POLL CLICK BELOW:
See you in January and have a good holiday season! Email: Admin@radpro.org.uk