If You Do Not Ask….



Over the last few months there have been several narratives exploring how the radiography profession can increase research capacity. Many of the social media conversations have focused on the challenges to achieving this for individuals. Radiographers want to and have the ability carry out research- it is carving out the time to achieve this which is difficult.

As an academic I am very fortunate to have scholarly activity time I can access. However, it become apparent over the summer that if I was to drive my professional doctorate work forward trying to complete it in my own free time was not going to be enough. Therefore, I thought I would use this blog to share some recent lessons learnt.

Look for support. Whether this is time or mentoring start looking. There are opportunities out there. For me it was about applying for internally funded workload to release me from my duties so I could concentrate on my research. If you cannot get support locally, I would urge anyone who wants to do research to visit the Society and College of Radiographers career progression webpages as a starting point.

Make yourself accountable. I had been sitting on the application form for a few months. I realised that if I verbalised out loud to a group of peers that I was going to apply this would make me accountable. Now and again I would get a gentle reminder or offer of support to get the forms completed and submitted. Nothing like a bit of peer pressure to get a task completed.

You are not an imposter. A fortuitous opportunity that has arisen from asking for help is access to our Faculty “research career guidance”. I was taken aback when I was asked to consider this as I do not think of myself as a researcher. Neither had I considered what my career would be like after my Doctorate was completed. I was reminded of Professor Peter Hogg telling a room full of radiographers that a Doctorate is not the end-point rather the beginning of a lifelong research trajectory. (Although a five-year plan is more than sufficient now given my completion year will be 2021).

Unexpected bonus. Even if I had been unsuccessful in this round of applications completing the forms required me to articulate my research plans for the coming years. This also included a mapping exercise of how my scholarly activity time would be used and justification of why additional time was needed above this. Year 2 of my Doctorate involves a 13,000-word portfolio with a progression viva. I have not started as the whole prospect was daunting (apologies if my research supervisor is reading this). By filling in the request forms I now have a clear road map of what I need to achieve.

So, there are my experiences of what happens if you ask. I hope the blog post inspires fellow radiographers new to this thing called research. If nothing else, it counts towards the reflective logs I am keeping as I develop my research question this year. My Doctorate mantra for 2016/2017- work smarter not harder.

The #HASBME16 Conference. My Reflections

Earlier in the academic year I noticed a poster outside the UWE Glenside campus calling BME students to participate in a survey about their experiences at the University. Normally I would have walked past this without a second glance but a phrase at the bottom caught my eye “White other i.e. Polish, Irish”.  At the time I felt annoyed that someone would list Irish in this context.  After all I would never place myself in the BME category.  Those who read my blog will know I already have enough “labels” and do not need any more added to the list!

In the months after this “incident” I started to speak to the Irish students on the diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy programmes about being listed as BME.  Historically Irish students have come to the UK to train as radiographers and most of you reading this blog will know an Irish healthcare professional. There is only one radiography school in the Republic of Ireland, it is fiercely competitive to get into mostly because radiography is a well understood career option across the waters. Hence the steady influx of Irish students onto UK training programmes over the decades.  Through speaking to our learners I had the opportunity to revisit my experiences of moving to the UK in the late 1990s and how I had to adapt.  From moving from a different educational system with a different pedagogical approach, to moving away from having a potatoe with every meal, to slowing my pace of speech.

Last week the UK made a historic decision to leave the EU and for me as an Irish national living and working in the UK this has been an interesting time. I felt vulnerable after this announcement.  Although I do not face the same challenges as someone who is visibly different through skin colour I have had my share of racist remarks over the years.  Someone I lived with at university ordered me to go back to Ireland as her Grandad’s friend had been killed in a terriost attack during the “troubles”.  A patient I once scanned said I should learn to speak properly if I wanted to stay in this country.  In another encounter a patient asked that my colleague scan them as I was not British. Ironic really as I was training the British person how to use the scanner.

Today I attended the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences BME (#HASBME16) student voice conference and I have to say it was emotional. Students spoke openly about how their accent, clothes they wore, their skin colour and even their names made them stand out from the crowd- for the wrong reasons. They shared with those in attendance the academic challenges they faced and how this may affect their attainment compared to their peers.  They spoke of how they needed role-models to show them that it is possible to succeed BME or not.

As I sat there I took notes and started to join the dots.   When I was younger I wished my parents had given me a beautiful Irish name like Clodagh, Cliona, Siobhan or Aishling.  Over the years I have grown to accept my name. Partly because it is a British name and partly because I see how colleagues struggle to pronounce Irish names.  When the patient was rude about my voice and tone I considered elocution lessons to further soften my Tipperary accent. I have seen the phrase whereby individuals try to “whiten” their CVs or “whiten” themselves.  However how do you whiten yourself when you are already white?

For me the presentation from #HASBME16 that inspired this blog was given by Wendy Irvin, Equality and Diversity Lead at the Royal College of Nursing.  Wendy spoke about doing more than just broadcasting the issues- you need to do something.  Therefore I write this blog to encourage healthcare professionals to look out for each other and to act as mentors for our BME learners. Taking care of everyone in society is even more important in the current climate.  Personally I pledge to work with our Irish learners as they transition to live in the UK. For some they will return to the emerald isle, for others  like myself, and two of my sisters, they will study in the UK, fall in love with the country (or in my case my husband) and never leave.

I wanted to use this blog entry to thank the team who organised and delivered #HASBME16 today for offering me the opportunity to visit the idea of BME and the challenges faced by this group. On the 10th.09.2016 I will have lived in the UK longer than I  lived in Ireland.  Even though this is a significant milestone for me  and I have developed a rather good Welsh accent over the years, I was reminded that it is Irish blood that runs through these veins. 

Inter-Professional Learning – Closer than You Think


I have blogged this month- promise! However this month I agreed to write a guest blog for the team @medradjclub. (Thank you for the opportunity).

The blog “Inter-Professional Learning – Closer than You Think” has received plenty of feedback, likes and retweets.  A little known secret is that in 1998 I had an offer to study either diagnostic or radiotherapy radiography. Even now I am still fascinated by both professions. At times we are so different and at other times so alike.

Anyway now to write the May blog……





The Dyslexic and the Doctorate

Blog space- it’s been a while. I have good reason for the hiatus. Juggling doctorate study, a promotion at work and day-to-day life has meant the last couple of months have been run to military precision not least to fit everything in. I have a “spare hour” this afternoon and I should be finishing a piece of coursework.  Instead I have granted myself some thinking time.  The coursework I am avoiding is somewhat indulgent.  Everything I write this year should be linked to my thesis proposal but on this occasion I have decided to look at clinical placement but from the viewpoint of supporting the dyslexic learner.  The latter has nothing to do with my research plans.  However high intensity study since October last year has forced me to revisit my specific learning difficulty (SpLD).


One, two or a bag of marshmallows.

Three weeks ago I was ready to give-up on my Doctorate.  This is despite meeting the required assessment hand-in dates and receiving really good feedback on work submitted.  Hence I stepped back to consider why I was thinking this when early indicators are that academically I can do this. At first I considered the Stanford marshmallow test theory.  I wondered whether I had what it takes to last the distance at this level of study.  Prior to starting my Doctorate someone asked me if I would eat a marshmallow in front of me or wait 15 minutes for two marshmallows.  When I said that the first marshmallow would be gone in a blink of an eye they advised that I step away from a Doctorate. There is no instant gratification from this level of study. However I also realised that I would do what my four year old would do in this situation.  Aware there may be more hidden marshmallows I would seek the bag of marshmallows. (Nothing like a bit of tenacity when it comes to undertaking Doctoral level studies.)


Something more.

Ruling this out made me think again about what was making me feel so low.  And then I realised that my old friend dyslexic was by my side.  You see usually dyslexia and I are in sync. The people I work with know my background. My complex coping strategies are well established.  When I am struggling I just remind myself that it is ok to have to work harder than my peers- it is just a fact of life.

However, since starting my Doctorate I have had to retell my “story”. I have had to do this more than once as each of the three “taught” modules we complete we share with different cohorts (MSc. Autism, MRes., MA. Healthcare Education Studies). Each contact week is delivered by a different group of lecturers. During a session on statistics I felt so embarrassed to ask the tutor for that week to slow down that I just fumbled along and then cried on the way home. I have had to deal with a classmate who made a flippant comment on how I didn’t fit the description of what dyslexia looks like. (What does dyslexia look like?) Hand-in dates for essays are tight and I have been struggling to work to these while balancing a project I am currently leading.

And then a lightbulb moment- my coping strategies had collapsed.  I have been busy so I haven’t applied for my Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) funding.  Usually within this I would have access to a tutor I could talk to about making reasonable adjustments.  For fear of being labelled I had mentioned my dyslexia to my supervisors but hadn’t really discussed at any great depth what this looks like for me. In short- I didn’t want to be singled out in class as being different or weak. For crying out loud I have had to manage this for 16 years- you would think I would have it sorted!!


Next steps.

So back to the essay I am supposed to be composing.  To be honest I am not 100% sure if I am on the right lines for the assignment brief. Yet no matter the outcome it has been refreshing to revisit my dear old friend dyslexia and to get to know them……again. Together we have achieved so much- now isn’t the time to become distant.


P.S. What does dyslexia look like?

Achieving my PgC (Teaching & Learning In Higher Education) in 2014.


Physician Associates: Who? What? Where? When?

Five months ago I agreed to take on the role of project lead for the development of a Physician Associate Studies programme here at the University of the West of England (Bristol). I initially seized the opportunity as it isn’t often in a  healthcare educator’s career you get to design and develop a programme from the very start. Many allied health professions are well established  so programmes are continually refreshed for revalidation purposes rather than started with no foundations . Furthermore I was interested in expanding my knowledge of this emergent workforce.

Currently there are a ~200 Physician Associates working in the UK & NI- the majority of whom work in the Acute setting. Last year the Government pledged that 1, 000 more would be trained to join the Primary Care workforce by 2020. The purpose of this blog, which is the first in a series of entries dedicated to this project, is to answer some commonly asked questions and highlight useful resources for those wishing to learn more about this workforce. I will be writing these blogs through the lens of both a healthcare educator and a Diagnostic Radiographer.

What is a Physician Associate?

The Department of Health’s Competence and Curriculum Framework for the Physician Associate defines the physician associate as:

“A new healthcare professional who, while not a doctor, works to the medical model, with the attitudes, skills and knowledge base to deliver holistic care and treatment within the general medical and/or general practice team under defined levels of supervision.”

The following is an objective and informative video from Health Education (West Midlands) which explores the day-to-day life of working as a Physician Associate.

Although the profession is relatively new in this country it has been in existence since the mid-1960s in the United States. An excellent website for reading more about this is the Physician Assistant History Society. (In the US the job- title is “Physician Assistant”)

Currently, in the UK & NI, the profession does not have a registration body. Eagle-eyed diagnostic radiographers reading this blog will be aware that an unregulated profession cannot request ionising radiation. Neither can they prescribe. The profession does however have a Managed Voluntary register. Furthermore, last year the Royal College of Physicians launched the Faculty of Physician Associates, a professional membership body for the physician associate profession.

What Training do you need?

Entry requirements will vary from institute to institute. As per the UWE, Bristol website these are as follows:

“Minimum of a 2:1 degree or equivalent in a scientific/health related subject. Potential candidates must also  demonstrate relevant work experience in healthcare. The relevance of work experience will be assessed during the admission process.”

The programme is delivered at “M” level  with an end award of PgD or MSc. – dependent on where you study and runs for 24-27 months. It is an intensive course with equal time spent on academic and clinical learning. There is a national exam that all delegates sit once their award is ratified by the Higher Education Institute where they studied.  They also re-certify every 6 years in order to continue to practice.

Here at UWE, Bristol, the team has ensured the programme follows the “Competence and Curriculum Framework for the Physician Assistant (2012)”. In order to ensure that competency can be achieved, the framework sets out certain criteria to be met by all programmes. This includes overall length and academic level (at least 90 weeks M level programme) and minimum levels of clinical practice in each of a range of fields. Competency is also addressed in the Matrix specification of Core Clinical Conditions for the Physician Assistant by category of level of competence.



I will be blogging over the next two months on various aspects of this project including learning from a recent trip to America; the opportunities this profession offers as well as the challenges faced by this professional group. I also hope to blog on how my experiences and insights into this profession has sparked some ideas for my own profession and the programmes I teach on. Please do feel free to comment on these blogs or on twitter @jstjohnmatthews.

Have a “Happenista” 2016.

WP_20150926_004[1]The time between Christmas and New Year is as good as any to look back on what you have learnt and your resolutions for the year ahead.  This is timely as today I completed the last module of the year- long “Happensita” on-line coaching programme developed and delivered by Executive Coach Jenny Garrett.  As my intention for 2015 was to “Be Present” this entry revisits my 2015 resolution.

The Economy of Time. In the book “Lean In- Women, Work and The Will to Lead” it is noted  by Sheryl Sandberg that one thing we can be certain of is that there are only 24 hours (1,440 minutes) in a day. (If you are like me and someone who can’t function on less than seven and half hours sleep a night this decreases to 990 minutes).  2015 has been focused on some quick wins on getting time back. I now listen to audio-books during my one and half hour commute.  I have switched a single monthly drive to a train journey allowing an opportunity to catch-up on administration tasks. I even use the time when I apply my make-up to listen to The Times Higher weekly podcasts.

Self-Care.  The hardest module for me during the Happenista project was the “self-care” module. Here you encouraged to take time out for yourself- to indulge in “me-time”. The philosophy is that if you don’t look after “me” you can’t look after others. This is very apt for those working in radiography as endorsed by Angela Bradshaw, former Sonographer and now an Alexander Technique teacher. Subsequently I have embraced the little things such as a monthly haircut (with head message) and pedicure. What makes these special is indulging in doing nothing during these appointments- well I do like to read a thrashy magazine….or two.

Quality over Quantity. This year I have become less focused on how many hours I spend with family but rather the quality of this time. Those who have read my previous entries will appreciate why this is an area of my life I feel strongly about this. Focusing on quantity had become counter-productive as often during the time I was with them I wasn’t really there worrying about deadlines and what tasks needed completing.  In 2015 I have improved in this area of my life ensuring that time spent on non-family related activities are focused. As a result of this I have found I am much more productive with my work-time and have family time to look forward to when things get tough.

So now that the Happenista programme is finished what next? Well the good news is as an alumni I have life-long membership to the tribe. There is an opportunity to revisit learning materials- I have no doubt this will be something I will avail of as I have only really started. In 2016 time spent each week working on happenista modules will be filled with Doctoral studies which will make an impact on the areas I enjoy the most- radiography and education.

I thought it fitting that my last blog for 2015 would be linked to my first. Like many valuable educational discoveries the learning never really ends. I look forward to further utilising the skills learnt in making 2016 just as fantastic as 2015. Wishing you all a Happenista New Year.