Joint Research Office


Danielle Fairweather

Blog written by Danielle Fairweather, Margaret Spittle Research Fellow

Despite being greatly fulfilled in my role as a Therapeutic Radiographer, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way in which I could have a bigger impact, helping more than just the patients in front of me. When I was undertaking my MSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology, some of the things I enjoyed the most was reading journal articles, learning about new trials and advancements in my profession, as well as undertaking a literature review as part of my dissertation. Research had always been something I was interested in and enjoyed, but like many other allied health professionals (AHPs), I initially wasn’t sure how research fit within my role or how to access it.    

When I joined the UCLH radiotherapy department back in January 2022, I was given an opportunity to work with the specialist research radiographers on implementing a new trial within the department and collecting trial data. These specialist radiographers, Rita Simoes and Amanda Webster, were living and breathing proof that carrying out research as a radiographer was not only possible but encouraged. They showed me that research can be a part of my day-to-day practice, rather than a golden egg that was only accessible for a select few. Although I enjoyed being involved in other people’s research projects and carrying out my own service evaluations, I craved an opportunity to develop myself further as a researcher. However, like many other clinically working AHP’s, one key element stood in my way – finding the time.  

So, with the encouragement of my peers and managers, I applied for the Margaret Spittle Clinical Research Fellowship. The fellowship would support me and cover 0.5WTE of my time so I could carry out a research project, with the supervision, guidance and support I needed. And I was successful! I was the first radiographer to be awarded the fellowship, so I feel an incredible sense of duty to complete a research project that not only has patient benefit but would also showcase the possibilities for radiographers in research.  

I knew from the start that my project would not be easy. We had decided to investigate, develop and implement a patient reported outcome measure (PROM – a validated questionnaire completed by patients) within the radiotherapy and proton beam therapy departments. This was a mammoth task for someone to complete in 12 months. The PROM would need to capture specific side-effects and health-related quality of life, which would help us improve patient-clinician communication as well as capture actionable outcome data. Implementing PROMs within routine practice has many benefits and is well supported by government policy, but little has been done about it at UCLH or in fact, nationally. So of course, this seemed like an important research topic to explore, and it quickly became my area of expertise.  

I researched methodology, I wrote protocols and patient information sheets, I applied for sponsor, HRA and ethics approval, I recruited and interviewed patients; all things I had never done before but was highly necessary to develop a patient-generated PROM. The imposter syndrome was real but with the support of my supervisors, managers and the CNMAR, who kept me focused and motivated, we set achievable goals, and celebrated the little wins. I’m 10 months into the fellowship and can’t believe how much I have been able to achieve, and how much I have been able to develop personally and professionally. And I’ve still got two more months to go! 

The next step for me is to apply for more funding to continue this project beyond its current level. As I’ve hinted, this is a huge topic to explore. The PROM I develop will need to undergo further validation, but ultimately, I aspire to contribute to national policy, and share the measure with other trusts as well as our own. I also aspire to complete a PhD, so the NIHR deadlines for PhD funding are very much ingrained into my mind. I know, no matter where research takes me next, the experience and knowledge I have gained from the Margaret Spittle Research Fellowship will carry me forward. I have already been invited as a speaker to a conference next year, I have an article under review, plus many more to write. The outputs from this project I’m sure will speak for themselves, but the personal development and confidence I have achieved in these last 10 months is really what makes these opportunities for AHPs so important.