How did you get into research?
I was appointed a research radiographer in 2000. This role gave me my first real taste of research; I was working closely with lead clinicians, research fellows and physicists to implement intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). My first research project was investigating radiographer’s perception of IMRT which I undertook for my MSc dissertation and allowed me to complete my MSc in 2001. My previous role was in pre- treatment and I was interested in trying to find ways to improve positioning of patients for radiotherapy treatment and in 2006 I commenced a part-time PhD investigating methods to improve accuracy in radiotherapy for lung and prostate cancer patients. The methods investigated included improving the positioning of patient/tumour or using image guidance techniques to compensate for patient and tumour motion.

What do you enjoy about research?
I really enjoy the multi-disciplinary aspect of what I do; approaching a problem in a team and hearing the different aspects from each profession. I enjoy talking to the patients about a trial and seeing how the research leads to improvements in patient care. I also really enjoy the variety and the fact that I continue to learn about new developments, teaching others and learning together how to improve the technology and or workflows.

What was the most difficult aspect of doing your PhD?
I did my PhD part-time which in one sense was difficult but it allowed more time to recruit patients into the trials. I found it really difficult to keep going when things didn’t work out as I had expected, but it was incredibly rewarding when I realised that I did! I also found writing my thesis very challenging initially, however I was incredibly well supported by my academic supervisors.

What difference has your research training and experience made to your career?
I have now been in this position for 17 years and it has totally changed my career. I have gained a lot of experience in research which I pass on by mentoring and supervising radiographers doing research at the Royal Marsden And also outside the Trust. It has also enabled me to contribute to national guidelines, I co-chaired the National Cancer Action Team National Radiotherapy Implementation Group which published the report: ‘Image Guided Radiotherapy - Guidance for Implementation and Use’ (2012), and teach internationally at the ESTRO teaching course on image-guided radiotherapy. I am still based in the radiotherapy department which is very important to me as it allows me to work closely with my clinical radiographer colleagues, bounce ideas off one another and critically appraise new developments.

What has made a difference to progressing your research career?
I have been really lucky to have been part of a multidisciplinary team who have encouraged me and supported the research I’ve undertaken, from clinical colleagues from all professional disciplines through to academic supervisors.

Where do you see your clinical academic career going over the next five years?
My current research includes image guided radiotherapy and involves the investigation into methods to reduce or compensate for patient and organ motion. My field is in an exciting position at the moment with emerging imaging technologies, such as Ultrasound and MRI (MR-Linac), for verification in radiotherapy. I would like to develop efficient workflows using these technologies to enable the radiotherapy to be adapted daily to the changes in patients or the tumours position.

Helen McNair, Research Lead Radiographer, Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, helen.mcnair@rmh.nhs.uk

To download Helen's case study please click here: Helen McNair