Radiography wins a dramatic role

January 20, 1995

Ngaio Crequer talks to four academics about how the National Health Service reforms are affecting their daily work of training students, and finds them largely enthusiastic about the links between practice and higher education.

The move from a National Health Service base into a higher education system brought massive changes for Scott Bowman, head of the department of radiography and imaging sciences at St Martin's College, Lancaster.

"Before, our courses were predominantly knowledge-based," he said. "Going into higher education has meant we have become more reflective practitioners, enabling us to think critically and evaluate what we do".

He used to be in a small school of radiography, inside a hospital, delivering professional validated courses. Now in higher education he is able to offer a range of degrees, including a BSc honours in radiography.

"We take a more student-centred approach to the courses we teach. There is more shared-learning, and a broader range of courses. For example, in our first year we have shared learning with nurses and occupational therapists.

"Before, we were more isolated. Then we were monolithic, now we are pluralistic."

He is very excited that the higher education environment allows unusual links between courses. Anatomy experts teach students on the degree course in the performing arts, something which would have been impossible in a hospital situation.

Radiographers teach on the undergraduate physics courses, and work with magnetic resonance imaging involves students going into scanners. "This can be very claustrophobic experience so we looked across the college and invited drama lecturers to come in and do some roleplay with our students.

"This is a very non-traditional way of teaching but because of higher education we can be innovative".

The college has to win contracts to attract funding.

"That has led to competition between different schools of radiography. It has meant that in the tendering process a lot of centres have gone to the wall.

"There used to be centres that trained only about five or six students. But now the centres are larger and we can provide a broad education, rather than technical training."

The university college background is also essential to help the profession to expand and to extend its role.

"The skills that students need are broadening. Now radiographers are being taught how to read X-rays. They are sharing their roles with others who are medically qualified.

"There are also new masters courses in ultra-sound and image interpretation.

"We are starting to see a different type of student. Before, people were being socialised as radiographers, now they are being socialised as students in higher education.

"It broadens their outlook; they are mixing with other students in the halls of residences, and the students union. Just going into the library and not just seeing books on radiography is a vital difference."

One difficulty is that in three years students have to complete their academic studies and their professional training.

"It is incredibly intensive and sometimes our students get many more study periods."

He has seen great benefits for the staff. "In the previous set-up the height of your ambition would probably be the head of department. But I have just become the head of faculty, which gives me a much wider role. Now the horizons are boundless and you can go right up the normal academic ladder."

The staff all have professional qualifications "but now we are all going off to do masters courses and take our PhDs. If we had been geographers we would have done all of that years ago".

He says that one thing they have realised, which they would not have done in hospital situation, is that they must diversify.

"We no longer see ourselves as just radiographers. We have just got funding for a new diploma in imaging science which will eventually become a degree. It covers computer graphics, printing, surveillance and many other areas. This would have been impossible in an NHS setting. We have completely broken away from most of the boundaries.

"By being in higher education we can respond very quickly to service needs. I think it is a very exciting time".

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