An ultra-sound career: my life as a senior radiographer

8 November 2017 is World Radiography Day, which celebrates the work of radiographers around the world. Radiographers use a range of different imaging techniques (or types of scan) to produce images that clinicians can use to diagnose and treat patients. Imaging techniques include x-rays, which are two-dimensional images; computerised tomography (CT) scans, where a computer uses x-rays to create a more detailed picture of the inside of the body; and ultrasound, where high-frequency sound waves are used. A practical job with clear career progression attracted Alvi Ajdini to his role as senior radiographer at Charing Cross Hospital. 

“Many people who come into hospital will need some form of imaging, so we’re one of the most widely used services in the Trust. Imaging encompasses any scan you might need to help diagnose a health condition, from two-dimensional x-rays of broken bones to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that can show the detail of organs and tissue. 

As a senior radiographer, my job is to operate imaging equipment and take scans so clinicians in other services can diagnose and treat patients quickly. This is especially crucial in emergency situations: many of the patients who come through A&E will need a chest x-ray to check for underlying problems. As our Trust is a regional neuroscience centre, my team at Charing Cross can be called upon at any time of the day to do scans of the head and spine, or vascular scans – in fact anything to do with the neurology system. 

How I got my job

I’ve been working in the imaging department at the Trust for two years. Before that I studied radiography at the University of Hertfordshire. A large proportion of my three-year degree course involved work placements in imaging departments, as it’s a practical, hands-on job that can’t be learned through lectures alone. I chose to do my placements at Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals. As a student I really enjoyed working with the teams at these hospitals and liked how the Trust offered clear career progression. At the end of my degree I applied for a permanent job as a band five radiographer and got it. To progress to a senior radiographer role here, I had to demonstrate I was confident and competent in performing advanced types of scan so I could do them out of hours when there are fewer staff around. 

My typical day

A typical day as a radiographer will generally start with a handover in the morning from the night shift and getting yourself set up for the shift ahead. The kind of scans you’ll take will depend on where you’ve been assigned on the rota: our department offers different procedures, such as x-ray, CT scanning, MRI and vascular scanning. 

There are always new challenges in my job because imaging technology is constantly evolving, so I’m always learning new things and developing my skills. There are ways of scanning we used five years ago that we don’t do anymore. For example, we used to do something called an intravenous urogram (IVU) – a scan for your kidneys and your bladder. The radiographer would give the patient an injection, press down on their stomach and wait. It was a really long-winded and difficult process. But now with new technology we can do a non-invasive CT scan instead: we inject a dye through a cannula and the patient lies in the scanner for five or 10 minutes to capture their image. 

Working with patients

It’s always really satisfying caring for patients. An important part of my job is to make patients feel at ease while they have a scan. Yesterday we had a patient who needed a CT scan, where you have to lie inside the machine during the procedure. The patient suffered from claustrophobia and was really nervous. To calm her fears, we took the time to make her comfortable and explain everything that was going on as it happened. Afterwards she said how much she appreciated this. It’s always really pleasant to hear positive comments from patients – I’ve had a patient say “you’re an angel!” before, which is very nice to hear!

Something I really enjoy about being a radiographer is you’re always on the move. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I really don’t like sitting down, so it’s the perfect job for my personality.  I like the physical side of the role – always being on my feet and moving patients. Some types of scans require you to be more physical than others, for example CT scans, where you need to slide patients in and out of the scanner. I’m quite outgoing, so I enjoy the team working side of things too and I have a great team at Charing Cross Hospital.

Building a career 

At this Trust we’re encouraged to continuously improve our practice. If we have any downtime between scans, we’ll work on our continued professional development through e-learning courses and there are opportunities to progress your career through postgraduate study too. We organise weekly lectures from radiologists who specialise in diagnosing and treating patients based on the scans we take. This improves our work in general, because the radiologists will tell us what the perfect technique is and exactly what they’re looking for in a scan, so we’re able to put what we’ve learned into practice the next day.

I would highly recommend radiography as a career to anyone who wants to work with people and enjoys learning new things. Working in imaging at this Trust has given me a lot of career opportunities: if you’re willing to work hard and show you’re capable, then there’s definitely progression possible in your role.”

On 8 November 1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the existence of x-rays, leading to the development of medical imaging techniques (or types of scan) used to diagnose and treat patients every day. Over a century later, 8 November has been declared International Day of Radiology and World Radiography Day, which both celebrate the work of professionals like Alvi.

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