Climbing the career ladder: From helper to aspiring consultant practitioner

Published: 25 October 2019 Ezine

Author: Roxanne Sicklen, Clinical Specialist Sonographer, Royal Free London NHS Trust

It was the summer of 1999. There was lots of talk about ‘a Millennium bug’ and I was a 17 year old, midway through my A-levels with no real plan for what came next.

A friend of my mum worked at a local hospital as a sonographer (a what?!?), and the department needed a helper to cover long-term sick leave. So my first experience of an imaging department started here; assisting patients to get changed, chaperoning and helping out in reception. Having never even heard of radiography before, I was fascinated by the variety of the role and soon decided that this was the path for me.

Fast forward to 2005. I had graduated from university and worked for two years as a diagnostic radiographer. I loved radiography but my heart was well and truly in ultrasound. I finally managed to secure myself a training position at my trust and completed a postgraduate diploma in medical ultrasound in early 2007.

As a mum of three children, I have worked part-time for much of my ultrasound career but my love for ultrasound has always seen me working hard outside of my working hours to better myself and my department. Although most sonographers work in a variety of different specialisms, most will have a favourite and mine is without doubt gynaecology and early pregnancy.

This was not a conscious decision. I found myself going home and reading around this area of practice and am always at my happiest when I am rotated to the early pregnancy and acute gynaecology unit. One of the areas that initially attracted me to a career in ultrasound was the challenge of delivering difficult news to patients. I remain particularly passionate about the provision of effective communication to help patients through a very difficult time in their lives.

By 2017, now 10 years qualified, I was ready for a new challenge. I had read about the Society of Radiographers' advanced/consultant practitioner accreditation scheme and decided to give it a go! Accreditation is achieved through CPD Now, the Society’s online continuing professional development (CPD) platform.

It involves writing a personal statement about your role, uploading and reflecting on six pieces of relevant CPD, which you must link to the four pillars of advanced practice: expert clinical practice, leadership and management, education, and research. You must also find two people to attest that you are working at the required level.

Although I was hugely disappointed at the time, I am not ashamed to say that my first application was deferred because I had not sufficiently evidenced leadership. The Society were very supportive and helped me to  identify where leadership skills and experience were used within my role. Leadership, I learnt, is about attitude and what you do to enable others around you. You do not have to be managing people or a service, you just have to be striving to help yourself, others, and the service to improve.

I am proud to say that I was successful at my second attempt for accreditation but really my biggest achievement from this is not the title, it is the journey of career development that it initiated. I created a poster as one of my pieces of CPD evidence about the diagnosis of uterine ectopic pregnancies with ultrasound. It was published in Imaging & Therapy Practice and was accepted as an oral presentation at the Association of Early Pregnancy Units (AEPU) conference in 2017.

Although I do not consider myself a natural public speaker, I have made a point throughout my career of putting myself outside of my comfort zone and talking at meetings, audit days and presenting interesting cases to my colleagues. Despite this, standing up in front of a room full of my peers for two minutes to talk about my work was probably the scariest two minutes of my life. But from this, I was asked to talk at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists about communication in early pregnancy. In turn, this led to speaking on the same topic at the AEPU conference in 2018 and I will present again at BMUS later this year.

In my clinical role, my efforts have also been recognised and I am now working with the senior management team to explore ways to achieve my ultimate ambition of becoming a consultant practitioner. Many people see gynaecology as the bread and butter of ultrasound service provision, but it is a rapidly expanding and developing area of ultrasound practice.

So what I have learnt from my decision to apply for SCoR accreditation as an advanced practitioner?

I have learnt to say yes!

I have learnt that leadership is mostly about the small things.

I have learnt that working hard does make a difference and does get recognition.

I have learnt that accreditation is not just a title, it changes the way that you focus on your role and I would recommend it to everyone.