Click on the play button to hear Kim's interview:
In this episode I talked to Kimberly who like most of our students, completed the Access Diploma with AOLL and pursued their studies at University. Kimberly recently posted on our Student Social media group that not only had she completed her undergraduate degree, but did so with a first-class honours. This is a wonderful achievement and a success story that we want to know about and share with our listeners. Kimberly, thank you for taking the time to be on the podcast. Before I ask you about your completed studies at University and your new role, I would like to find out about your experience and being an online access to HE student.
How did you decide to study an access course instead of doing A levels?
I decided to study on the Access course rather than doing A levels just because I thought that it would be more useful to me when going on to a degree. I thought it would be more specific to doing a health and social care degree rather than picking three separate subjects at A level. And because I knew I could do it within twelve months rather than over two years as a mature student, I wanted to be ready to sign up for my degree course more quickly and the access course sort of gave that to me and allowed me to be able to complete it within 12 months.
Was there an advantage to studying online?
The main advantage to me studying online is the fact that when I did my access course, I had one child at the time. I've since had a second child and it meant I didn't have to commit to a college timetable or worry about childcare and basically what I used to do. I was very lucky and I had a very good sleeping baby. So in the evenings when he went to bed is when I would study and do my work.
What encouraged you to become a radiographer?
I decided to go on and study therapeutic radiography, so that literally entails treating cancer patients with radiation, so it's very different from diagnostic radiographer, which includes imaging, MRI, CT, scanning, et cetera. But I knew that I wanted to do something in and around something that involves cancer treatment. I did consider nursing, but I knew I would have to sort of go across a lot of different specialities before I got to oncology. And with therapeutic radiography it is just an oncology. My interest came ultimately because my dad had treatment for cancer, and that's how I discovered that there was a rule that just involved treating cancer, which is the therapeutic radiography rule. Unfortunately, while studying on my distance learning course, I did actually lose my dad to the disease during my time studying. But it spurred me on and just made me want to work harder and be able to work in a role that can give back and help patients through what essentially is one of the most distressing times of their lives.
I'm sorry to hear that, and it's very encouraging to hear that you continued your studies given the difficult circumstances. It may be difficult to do so, but can you sum up for anyone that doesn't know what the role of a radiographer is?
Sort of what I said in my last answer, really. There are basically two specific radiographer rules. One is a diagnostic radiographer, and they're involved specifically in imaging. So they will x-ray patients, CT scans, MRIs, Pet scans, and they work in more of a diagnostic capacity, whereas therapeutic radiographers work in oncology. And although we do have to do some CT scanning, so we do have to be trained in that as well. We do that in order to plan radiotherapy treatment. But ultimately we are using a machine called a linear accelerator, which delivers high dose radiation to treat tumours, various different types of cancers. So therapeutic and diagnostic, although they're both radiographers, they are essentially two completely different jobs. And with my degree as a therapeutic radiographer, I couldn't then go on to become a diagnostic radiographer. I would have to go back to university to study that and vice versa. So they're very different rules.
How did the online access course prepare you in terms of study and knowledge of becoming a radiographer?
I think the online access course prepared me very well in terms of academic writing. I'm a mature student. I basically haven't studied for 20 years when I started the online course. So things such as Harvard referencing and being able to sort of format essays correctly was a huge help when I went to university because I think I would have really struggled to get started without having that behind me. I already knew how to reference and knew how to write academically. And also because it was specific to healthcare, I sort of knew the basics as well, such as cell biology. All the topics were very much useful to me in my degree because it was basically a starting step to what I would then pick up on in the degree. The only thing I didn't cover was physics, actually, and doing radiation. I think that would have helped me. But when I first started it, I wasn't 100% convinced of what healthcare course I was going to go down. In hindsight, I would have maybe picked up a physics module on the online access course, which I think would have helped me once I got to university.
When applying to university, then, how did you find the process and were there any obstacles with the entry requirements? So, for example, did you have the relevant GCSE?
The application process for university was pretty straightforward. I already had the relevant GCSE in English and Math and Science, which meant I literally just needed to get the required credits in the AOLL Access course. So I managed to do that throughout. I had a mix of distinctions and merits, which gave me enough UCAS points, and I also had support from AOLL when applying for universities. And yeah, I found it pretty straightforward, to be honest, but there was always somebody there to help if I got stuck, so it wasn't sort of too overwhelming.
Once you complete the diploma and started your university course, was there anything in particular that you'd experienced being an online student and studying a level three diploma that gave you the tools or knowledge for the next level?
I think, as I said earlier, once I started the university course, I felt that the online course had given me a really good standing in things like academic writing and referencing. We used Harvard referencing on AOLL at the time and we had a slightly different version at university, but it was very similar and I definitely think that gave me a head start. I know some students in my cohort who didn't have that experience and they struggled with that, and that meant that they were struggling to get the required marks and the initial assessments until they got up to speed with that. So I think the online course definitely helped me with that. I also found as well, obviously I wasn't meant to do my university degree online, but six months into the degree, covid happened and for a year and a half all of our lectures were moved online. So because I was used to that, although it was difficult, I didn't find it completely alien because I was used to being able to set my own deadlines and being able to motivate myself to work and ultimately know that the responsibility of handing, working on time and getting the work done and revision done was on my shoulders.
And it was up to me to plan my time properly. And I definitely think it helped during my distance learning beforehand, it helped me prepare for that. Hopefully people now applying for degrees of starting degrees are going to get face to face and we're not going to go back into that awful distance learning where we can't have any contact with people again, because it can be difficult and isolating. And I know for a lot of younger students on my course, they really struggled with that. For me, it wasn't as difficult again, because I'd already had experience of it and because I've got care and responsibilities and having two young children, actually it made it a little bit easier to work around.
I mentioned earlier that you shared on the Student Social Media group about completing your degree with the first which without any obstacles is no mean feat however, you also mentioned that you are a mature student with a husband and two children who are three and six this demonstrates even more the outstanding success that you've achieved - congratulations. I know that there are many parents that need to work but also want to study what advice could you share with us that might change their mind to make them think that could be me or I could do that?
Yeah I think it is a pretty good achievement, especially with two young children. My youngest was only 11 months old when I started. I do have a supportive husband however we don't have any family nearby so it has been very tricky. We live 250 miles away from close family. So, things like childcare have been an issue, especially with clinical placements, etc. Ultimately I think that anybody can do it and I think it's about organisation, setting your own timelines, setting your own targets. I knew I didn't want to just scrape a degree I wanted a high degree classification. And I think ultimately if you are organised you can definitely do it. Financially I had access to maintenance loans as a student and also studying a health and social degree the government have brought back some of the grants. So because I had children I got up to £7000 a year in grants plus my maintenance loan which goes on to the tuition fee loan. Ultimately I have a lot of student dept at the end of it which will have to be paid back over time but that's the same for everybody doing a degree course now. But the grants were actually extremely helpful and have meant that the extra money we don't have to pay back. And we've also with health and social care we can get help with travel costs and accommodation costs if you need to stay in accommodation whilst your on clinical placements.
If I can do it, anybody can do it!
So it can be done, it definitely can be done. When I started it I did think it was a huge mountain to climb and how are we going to do it? Especially with having care and responsibilities. But it's about being organised. It's about talking to your lecturers, to your clinical placement leads because they can offer you some flexibility if you do have children, etc. But if you're worried about working and thinking about that there are grants and extra help available. You do have to find that yourself, university will help you with it and you have to apply for it and put in the work in regards of getting your forms sent to the right places and speaking to the right people. But it is definitely do-able. If I can do it, anybody can do it!
Great! And finally, what is next now that you have completed your diploma and undergraduate degree?
So I'm recording this interview the night before starting my very first Band 5 role. So I'm a bag of nerves right now. I'm going back to Peterborough City Hospital for 8am tomorrow to start there as a Band 5 Radiographer. Very nerve-racking however, I was at that department for my final clinical placement so I know the staff and they were quite keen to have me back. So I feel like I'm already wanted. And it's kind of nice to know that actually even though it is first day nerves I know where to park tomorrow, I know which department I am heading to, who to go and meet and I know which door to go and knock on.
Being part-time, I feel like I've got the best of both worlds
So yeah that's the plan now. I'm Band 5 now I managed to secure a. part-time position. They are sort of few-and-far between. It means I can work three days a week and my two boys are still very young so I get a bit of balance with the family time as well and catch-up on all the family jobs, the cooking and the cleaning, etc. So I feel like I've got the best of both worlds. Starting my new role tomorrow I am going to get settled in, get all my competencies signed and make sure I'm just going to be doing the best job that I can do and take it from there, see what happens. A lot of departments to work up the bands, go for promotions when they go up. For now I am very happy to have my degree, to have it all over and done with and I am extremely happy to have my brand new job at a department that I already know and like. Yeah it's all very exciting!
Thank you Kimberly, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I wish you all the best in your career as a Radiographer and thank you for joining me on the podcast.