Jo McNamara - National Crisis: Challenges within Therapeutic Radiography Recruitment

Our latest blog post comes from Jo McNamara, Senior Lecturer, Admissions Tutor & IPE AHP Lead at Sheffield Hallam University.

It is so often the case that when we discuss our own experiences, there aren't many Therapeutic Radiographers out there, who researched careers at the age of 14 and set their heart on becoming a Therapeutic Radiographer. Many of us, myself included, considered physiotherapy, medicine and diagnostic radiography and as a result of either exam results, or a change in circumstance, 'stumbled' across the role of Therapeutic Radiographer. 'What is one of those?' I so often hear.

I've been a Lecturer now at Sheffield Hallam University involved in admissions and recruitment for 6 years. During that time I have observed a significant decline in applications to Radiotherapy, despite more time and resource being dedicated to recruitment. Since 2015 we have observed a 57% decline in applications, whilst our allied health partners in diagnostic radiography and physiotherapy have seen an increase in applications year on year. With this in mind it is difficult to attribute the recent loss of bursary to account for this trend. As the largest provider of Radiotherapy education in the country, we are acutely aware that this is a national picture and the impact to the workforce is yet to be realised.

Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward clearly identified the diagnostic shortages in workforce and the impact this could have on survival rates and whilst promising the installment of 36 Linear Accelerators (LINACS) and 12 upgrades to radiotherapy equipment at 23 hospitals, there was no mention of the Therapeutic Radiography workforce shortages. With this years recruitment picture now transparent, it is imperative we all take action to ensure that we are recognised for the role we play within oncology.

Recruitment activity within Higher Education Institutes (HEI) tends to be in partnership with placement providers and sharing this responsibility is testament to the passion so many Therapeutic Radiographers have about their profession. Having undertaken a questionnaire with 98 current students, 30% found out about Therapeutic Radiography from family and friends who had attended treatment. This clearly illustrates the need for our clinical colleagues to ensure their patients know their title. This sounds simple enough and yet in clinical practice I hear (and see on name badges!) so many different titles used 'Therapy Radiographers' 'Radiotherapist's' 'Radiographer', so lets all try to adopt Therapeutic Radiographer and when introducing ourselves include our title proudly.

Empowering our students to help raise the profile of our profession is also key. Many of them have fresh in their minds the challenges of even finding out about the career, many feel passionate about ensuring future generations know what a Therapeutic Radiographer is and how rewarding the career is. We are very fortunate to have a student recruitment group led by Sarah Bradder, who use their personal time to visit schools and colleges and attend open days to promote our profession.

During Science week this year I had contact with over 1,000 school and college students. Of those students only two knew the role of a Therapeutic Radiographer. How many of us have to explain to our nearest and dearest about what we do, or get called nurse by our patients. We need better national recognition and although Health Education, The Office for Students and the SCoR are all seeking to assist, it needs to be everyone's responsibility. I have no doubt that those of you who watched the world cup were in ore of the nursing advert, we need national media campaigns and TV programmes to assist with illustrating what a Therapeutic Radiographer does.

I am often asked about what recruitment strategies work within our profession. Without the time to measure impact and undertake research, it is very a case of relying on my experiences throughout recruitment cycles. Applicants like Lyndsay below often report that undertaking a departmental visit helps solidify their decision making process. So providing applicants the opportunity to shadow Therapeutic Radiographers is key, despite trusts now appearing to withdraw work experience opportunities and put complex visitation procedures in place. Nurturing applicants from school and college is an everyday occurrence for a Radiotherapy Admissions Tutor and yet with more pressure placed on academics, time to develop these relationships and undertake conversion activity is being limited.

Lyndsay Bell - Starting BSc Radiotherapy & Oncology course 2018

I am about to start the next stage of my life as a student Therapeutic Radiographer at Sheffield Hallam University. I became aware of the role of a Therapeutic Radiographer when my mum was ill and something about it caught my attention. I went on to enrol on an access course at my local college to enable me to gain the qualifications needed for University. I attended many open days and it was at one of these events that I met Jo McNamara. After speaking to her I knew that Radiotherapy was definitely for me and she pointed me in the right directions to help me get to where I am today. As an older student of 34 I had concerns about going back to studying, but again I have found plenty of support from college and the university. I especially enjoyed the departmental visit, which is a requirement before starting the course. This gave me a great insight into the role and made me more determined to go for it. I can not wait to get started.

Although there is currently lots of attention around recruitment, we have to again consider the impact of our recruitment strategies on attrition. Attrition is always a concern for HEI's specifically considering the national attrition rate has been as high as 36.5% (SCoR, 2013). With the implementation of the RePAIR Project, of which we were a case study site, we have received information around key 'crunch' points which seem to occur in year 2 and initial data suggests that 40% of students consider leaving their course at some point, with placement challenges being one of the most commonly reported reasons.

With HEI's having to resort to using clearing as a method to recruit to target, the impact on attrition has to be considered. Clearing should not be viewed as a negative way to recruit, however statistically we know there is higher attrition from clearing applicants.

The NHS Cancer Workforce Plan, Health Education England highlight the need to recruit 1560 more Therapeutic Radiographers by 2021, 18 per cent more than in 2016. Without serious investment in Radiotherapy recruitment we will inevitably reach a crisis point where cancer survival rates will be affected by a reduce workforce. Action is required now and not just when it is evident within clinical practice.


  • Department of Health (2017) Phase 1: Delivering the Cancer Strategy to 2021. NHS England Publications

  • Department of Health (2016) Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward. NHS England Publications Gateway Reference 05215

  • Society and College of Radiographers (2013) Improving retention of the radiotherapy workforce - the role of practice placements in student attrition from pre-registration programmes in England: Full report