Eight students took part in a focus group lasting 1 hour. Three from year 1 and five from year 3 of the programme. Six identified as female, two as male. Ages ranged from 18 to 26 with a mean of 22. Six identified as NZ European, one as Chinese and one as African. These demographic markers are highly representative of the total student population, which is predominantly female, under 25 years of age and of New Zealand European ethnicity.
Analysis produced four overarching themes;” Being is prized over “Doing”, Change is inevitable, a framework for professional identity formation and modelling is key to learning. Table 2 lays out the codes and their connection to the themes constructed. We discuss the themes in detail below, providing example supporting quotations from the transcript. The quotations used are representative of the entire group discussion.
The column on the left indicates the final constructed themes, the column on the right indicates the codes which were linked to those final themes (also known as categories).
“Being” is prized over “doing”
When asked what it meant “to be” a Radiation Therapist (RT), the conversation with participants focussed on the values, qualities and attributes that a radiation therapist possesses (what an RT is) rather than academic achievement, technical skills or knowledge (what an RT does). The patient centric nature of that “being” resonated strongly with participants.
“when I got into this degree, I didn’t realise how heavily patient focused it was. I was very much… thinking it was more about the technology and the treating of cancer…. but it’s definitely so strongly focused on the patient which I love”
There was recognition of the knowledge and skills required to provide a specialised form of treatment, but the relationships formed with patients appeared more highly prized including advocating for, supporting, and identifying patients’ holistic needs. Technology, while not without its “wow” factor is a means to an end, allowing RTs to provide care for their patients.
“unless you had an interest in helping people and treating people…I don’t think you’re going to hang around long enough to be able to put up with maybe the more challenging aspects of dealing with someone who’s upset.”
Ultimately, if it were not the knowledge and technology currently used, it would be another version of it. The person behind the role will have the same motivations and personal traits.
Change is inevitable
This theme centred on how the technical knowledge an RT requires is perceived. That knowledge feeds into a set of practical skills across clinical practice. The combination of knowledge and practical tasks determines what RTs do as part of their everyday practice. It was acknowledged that, as research expands the RT knowledge base and as new technology becomes available, the “what” will change, and that change is actively pursued.
“I guess that kind of speaks to…how different it was…compared to how it is now, so I feel like that’s probably something that will continue to happen as we go forward…hopefully always…empathic and patient centred”
The contrast highlighted by participants, is the desire that how RTs work should not change with respect to applying professional judgement and working towards a good outcome for patients. The ability to take current knowledge and technology and use both appropriately is a consistent feature of practice. For example, those who have been in practice for 10 years do things differently to when they first entered practice. These student participants fully expect to know and use different tools 10 years from now. Their approach to how that work is done is likely to be consistent with what and how they learn now. A specific example provided was greater levels of automation which potentially freed them to spend more time with patients. Additionally, participants expressed a strong desire for the curricular experience to prepare them for change and evolution, which they hold to be inevitable and, in many cases, desirable.
“I’d hope that only the technology would change but …we [will] still treat the patient and…all that side of it would not change”
A framework for professional identity formation
This theme was constructed to reflect participant awareness of professional identity formation taking place. There was a strong sense that a key factor impacting professional identity formation related to self-perception, if a student does not feel they have made the transition to becoming a professional, then it has not happened.
So what do you think makes you feel that you’re not quite there yet? Is there anything that they do or is it something that’s inside you that feels that way?
Um, I think it’s probably me”
Another key element concerned how individuals were regarded by others, often those the students were supervised by as they were learning. Participants anticipated distinct, future events marking their transition to becoming professionals.
“Cos[sic] they [clinical Radiation Therapists] do push you to do things and say, … you’re just as competent as we are”
Professional identity does not simply encompass what is known, or what can be done but also how participants think and respond to their environment. The BRT learning experience appears to provide a framework which allows students to recognise when they have moved from being students to practitioners.
“Up to that, up to that point, I can know the things but I’m not one”
Modelling is key to learning
This theme addresses a range of ideas relating to behavioural and learning models which students are exposed to and their impact on learning experience. Behavioural and professional practice models can be positive, providing inspiration; or negative, establishing patterns of behaviour or practice to avoid.
“I think there are, you can see the staff members as you can see them as like good radiation therapists and maybe one that’s not quite, not someone that you would want as a radiation therapist.”
Not everyone students interacted with appeared interested in student learning.
“Cos [sic] they’re [clinical Radiation Therapists]…highly variable as to…how…keen they are on having students involved and stuff so… some don’t get you involved as much and then some are…really interested and wanting you to learn“.
Participants discussed actively seeking models from the beginning of their learning experience.
“…the staff…you watch them when you’re on a placement and you see how skilled they are and how much they know and you’re like, okay, I need to be like that.”
There was little distinction drawn between the perceived value of models demonstrated in the classroom or clinical context.
“the fact that…our lecturers are radiation therapists and that influences us, I think is a good thing because they…keep it real with us and we know exactly what we’re getting into”
This theme also includes the influence of models on the learning experience quality. Value was placed on learning experiences which were more than simple knowledge transfer, instead bringing out the best from students, drawing on prior knowledge, experience and existing qualities.
“So they kind of teach us to understand ourselves so we can understand the patients”