Katy Cooper, assistant practitioner – radiography
Find out more about her healthcare career
This interview was conducted in 2012. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.
What did you study at school?
I wanted to be a nurse, so I left school at 16 and did an NVQ in health and social care at college. When nursing didn’t work out for me, I got a job working on reception at a cancer centre. I was really interested in what the assistant practitioners were doing and liked the patient contact, so I decided to become one.
How did you train?
The department was sponsoring people to do either a full-time degree in radiography or a foundation degree in radiotherapy and oncology practice. I applied to do both. I had to do a biology A level to do the full degree, but didn’t get the grade I needed, so I did the AP foundation degree instead. It was a two-year, online, distance learning course with Anglia Ruskin University. I worked four days a week on set – that’s what we call working on the X-ray machines here – and had one study day a week to do my coursework. I got a foundation degree (FDSc) at the end of it.
What does a typical day entail?
The work is very varied. We do CT (computed tomography) scans of patients and work on different radiotherapy machines treating them. You’re on your feet a lot. An important part of our role is to talk to the patients and answer their questions.
What’s the difference between you and a radiographer?
There are certain things we’re not qualified to do. We take images during treatment and we can look at an image and say it looks fine, but it’s the radiographer who decides to continue treatment. There’s very little difference between an assistant practitioner and a radiographer, though – except the pay band and the fact that we can’t progress. If I wanted to become a radiographer, I’d have to do the full degree.
What’s the work–life balance like?
You work shifts: the earliest starts at 7am and the latest ends at 7pm. You work as a team, so you have to be conscious of other people if you need to take time off. But it’s possible – lots of people have families.
What are the most challenging and satisfying parts of your job?
It’s not always plain sailing. Machines break down and things get hectic. But knowing that you’ve managed to help someone is very fulfilling.
NVQ: health and social care (2000).
A level: biology (2003).
FDSc: radiotherapy and oncology practice (2004).
Healthcare assistant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge (2000).
Office administrator (2000–02).
Receptionist and administrator at Addenbrooke’s, Radiotherapy Department (2002–04).
Trainee assistant practitioner at Addenbrooke’s, along with Anglia Ruskin University (2002–04).
Assistant practitioner at Addenbrooke’s (2004–).
Salary guide (2017)
Assistant practitioners – NHS pay band 4: £19,409–£22,683 (NHS Careers).
Essential subjects (2017)
Entry requirements vary by post. To train as an assistant practitioner you will generally need to be working in the NHS already, probably as a clinical assistant. You will need a healthcare qualification at level 3, such as an NVQ or BTEC higher diploma. You may also be expected to study alongside your work for a foundation degree in a relevant subject. For more information on becoming an assistant practitioner, see the NHS Careers page.