A week in the life of a PhD GI sonographer 

As part of Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month #MUAM Ruth Reeve gives an insight into her role 

Published: 18 October 2021 Ultrasound

I am a sonographer undertaking a PhD as a clinical academic research fellow at the University of Southampton, researching patient experiences of surveillance for premalignant pancreatic cystic lesions prior to intervention development. I work clinically in gastro-intestinal ultrasound for two days a week at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. I am also involved with the SoR Radiography journal editorial team, the Society’s ultrasound advisory group and the British Medical Ultrasound Society.

What do I enjoy about my job? Although there is a structure, from week to week it changes and stretches me, and there are always opportunities to learn. I am in the final year of my PhD, so from Monday to Wednesday I spend my time working on my thesis. The luxury and difficulty of doing a PhD is that I am responsible for my workload and organising my time. 


On Monday this week I am sorting through my research interviews, checking the transcripts (thanks to help from an award from the College of Radiographers Industry Partnership Scheme) and completing the initial coding. 
I manage most of this but will have to complete them first thing on Tuesday. Monday evening I review and post social media updates for the Radiography journal and work with the medrad journal club (#MedRadJClub) preparing for the upcoming twitter journal discussion.


An early (6am) start on Tuesday to join the SoR doctoral writing support group. For two hours, SoR members support each other and get some quality writing time. It is a great way to start the day, before any distractions and a good way to meet other researchers.

Afterwards I spend the rest of the day organising and generating thematic maps where I am looking to understand the meaning behind the experiences shared within the interviews. This is an iterative process and takes longer than I ever anticipated prior to beginning my PhD, but this creative organising time has been one of my favourite times during the research fellowship. As Tuesday comes to a close I organise my thoughts, write a summary of what was achieved and prepare for supervision on Wednesday.


On Wednesday I spend more early hours getting a head start on the day before the school run. I spend this time working on a mixed methods literature review of interventions, before joining another PhD student on a focussed writing session.

We share updates and provide mutual support before doing more writing. Undertaking a PhD can be particularly lonely, as most of the work is by yourself, so it is important to seek out opportunities to connect with and support others.

Later I go into an online supervision meeting where I meet with my two supervisors, both experts in health research with a shared interest in my research question. We discuss progress during the summer, review interview findings and determine what needs to be done next to maintain progress to meet my PhD goals.

Supervision is a great opportunity to talk over any areas of concern, ask advice and to get an extra perspective of things where discussions often lead to more questions or areas to explore further. Following my supervision session I take a moment to reflect on what was said and plan for the following PhD week.


Thursday is my first clinical day of the week. I begin the day at 8am checking emails, reviewing and responding to any requests for advice or feedback and then at 8.30 my specialist GI ultrasound list begins. My specialist list involves outpatient scanning with a variety of different indications with an obvious focus on gastro-intestinal referrals.

The most challenging requests come from complex Crohn’s disease and colorectal lesion staging, where I am required to draw from my developing clinical knowledge and understanding as well as my cross-sectional/imaging understanding to formulate comprehensive reports for the clinicians to help them make treatment decisions.

More recently the department has started to train another radiographer in GI ultrasound, so I also spend time teaching the practical ultrasound skills that are more challenging when scanning bowel, as well as the anatomy and pathology required.

Lunchtime today involves checking in with the first-year radiology trainees in our simulation suite as the sonographer lead for radiology trainee ultrasound, then joining the local book club where the focus is on reading books with a healthcare focus, either from patients or healthcare professionals.

I try to join this where possible as it has helped further my understanding and empathy for the patients I see and the colleagues I work with. Thursday afternoon I have a training list with one of our general medical sonographer trainees, providing support during their preceptorship period while awaiting ratification of their results. I enjoy watching the soon-to-be qualified trainees, seeing how systematic and thorough they are, providing support and guidance where appropriate.


On Friday morning I start work at 8am when the hepatobiliary and pancreatic (HPB) multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting starts. This week is the benign HPB MDT and I review the pancreatic cystic lesions under surveillance with the gastroenterologists and surgeon, discussing any new patients or changes to those under surveillance. 
Following this I return to the department and review vetting the ultrasound requests on the system. I then check the peer review audit for the department that I lead. Today I am collating the results from the previous month and reviewing any discrepancies or feedback for the team. I spend the rest of the morning planning a presentation for the BMUS annual scientific meeting, which is due to be recorded later this month.

On Friday afternoon I have another GI ultrasound list. Today there have been requests from community sites looking for second opinions which I take time to review and report. During the list I am called by a colleague to scan an inpatient that they believe might have appendicitis. As clinical lead and GI specialist my role is to support the team where possible, so I scan the patient and explain that there is inflammation but the appendix is normal, the appearance more likely to be of an ileitis. I return to my list and finalise the reports for the day before leaving for the weekend (when I will return for a bank shift).