Making a difference in the lives of cancer patients

9 December 2008

Diana Andruczyk has yearned for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of cancer patients ever since high school.

Having graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Medical Radiation Sciences) - Radiation Therapy in November 2007, the 22-year-old is finally realising her ambition.

Diana Andruczyk, Radiaition Therapist at the Cancer Care Centre, St George Hospital
Diana Andruczyk, Radiaition Therapist at the Cancer Care Centre, St George Hospital

Now a radiation therapist at St George Hospital's Cancer Care Centre, Andruczyk currently oversees the radiation treatment of up to 35 patients a day.

Significantly, her role demands more than just a high level of expertise in cutting-edge medical science. With treatment regimes lasting up to five-weeks, the forming of personal bonds with those in her care constitutes one of the most satisfying aspects of her role.

'You see the patients every day so you get to know them, become a part of their support network and help them along during their treatment,' she explains. 'You wake up in the morning and you actually want to go to work because you know that you're going to meet these people, or see the person who told you that they were going to their daughter's wedding over the weekend. And when you see them come back in a couple of months to visit, it does make you feel good when you see that they're better. It's a very satisfying job.'

While the very nature of cancer ensures that not all treatment outcomes are positive, it's a reality Andruczyk has already come to accept.

'It is challenging,' she admits. 'You do get the sad stories but you learn how to deal with them. You learn to cope and you learn to be there for these patients. At least you're able to help them and ease their pain a little.'

Echoing the sentiments of Andruczyk, Mark West, Lecturer in Radiation Therapy Physics with the Faculty of Health Sciences, also says that the combination of humanity and technology is a popular motivation among students looking to enter the field via the three-year applied science degree.

'The reasons that graduates say they do the course is that they get to work with modern technology and they also have a patient-focused aspect as well,' he says. 'So it's a combination of new equipment and new systems as well as dealing with patients on a day-to-day basis. They really enjoy that mix.'

Highlighting the recommendations of the 2002 Baume Report and the subsequent increase in prevalence of radiation treatment machines, West says that radiation therapy promises to be a strong future growth area.

'The Baume Report made recommendations about a need for increased oncology services in NSW and recommended more treatment machines be installed,' he says. 'That obviously means a need for more radiation therapists.'

West ads that the career options for graduates are not necessarily restricted to a direct involvement in cancer treatment.

'They can either work as a radiation therapist in an oncology centre in Australia or overseas once they complete their year of accreditation, or they can work for companies that sell medical equipment to oncology departments,' he says. 'They could also work in the academic field, with radiation therapy research being an important growth area.'

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