The 15th annual National Apprenticeship Week celebrates apprentices across England. As part of those celebrations Andrea Jones, a National Breast Imaging Academy Mammography Associate Apprentice, shares her story. She is completing the programme at Wythenshawe Hospital’s Nightingale Centre and is backing the Build to Beat Breast Cancer appeal.
I actually started my career as a beauty therapist and retail skincare therapist. I did it for many years and although I enjoyed it I always knew that I wanted to work in healthcare, I just wasn’t sure what sort of healthcare I wanted to be in.
Then a few things happened which really helped make up my mind. Firstly my mother, Ann Jones, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was the same age I am now, 42, when she was diagnosed. Sadly in 1994, when she was 50, she passed away. Breast screening had only just started at the time of her cancer diagnosis.
My grandma and great-grandma also had breast cancer so I made enquiries with my GP about visiting the family history clinic. I ended up having mammograms and a biopsy at the Nightingale Centre and my mammograms are now annual.
When my mother was diagnosed, the idea of working with breast cancer patients felt too close to home, but after my own experiences of the clinic I knew it was what I wanted to do. Everyone was absolutely fantastic there and I knew I wanted to be part of that – helping other people, making a difference and giving something back.
Fast forward a little bit and I knew I wanted to get a bit of experience behind me first, so I got a position with another Trust as a Radiography Assistant in 2018. I chaperoned patients for ultrasounds and mammograms, building up my skills for a few years. I really enjoyed the experience and loved helping patients through what can be an emotional and difficult time.
After a few years of doing that I applied for the apprenticeship programme at the Nightingale Centre and started in March 2021. I will hopefully finish in March 2022 if I pass all my exams.
The core work I do is taking two pictures of each side of the breast. So I will help position the lady in the mammography machine and what we’re looking to do is pre-empt cancer, so we’re looking for any early warning signs that cancer could develop. When you first start, you screen ladies who are part of the screening programme and come in every three years, but now I also do the family history ladies and ladies who have previously had cancer and those attending follow-up appointments.
There are a couple of types of patient I don’t do at the moment, such as ladies who have implants, but I do want to learn more and add to my skills. The great thing about being with the National Breast Imaging Academy is that I am always being offered opportunities to learn more or volunteer for extra things which will boost my skills and experience.
I also chaperone patients when they have a biopsy or something we call a vacuum assisted biopsy which is when we take a little sample to look at under a microscope. I will be in the room reassuring the patient and making sure they are comfortable and also do their dressing after the procedure. I also carry out quality assurance checks on the equipment.
It’s a full time role, but I do have one day assigned as a study day. It’s a very practical job and I feel very fortunate to have been accepted onto the course.
If I had to choose, my favourite part of the role is seeing someone leave with a smile. A lot of patients come in and they are terrified. One lady said she had fainted at her last appointment and was so nervous, but when she left she said ‘Can I have you again?’ That was such a lovely compliment. I know what these ladies are going through so seeing them coming in nervous, but then helping them through that, making them comfortable and then see them leaving grateful and more at ease is really rewarding. Someone called it being the ‘Mary Poppins of mammograms’.
I’m really supportive of the Build To Beat Breast Cancer appeal and the fact it will create a new purpose-built training facility right here at the Nightingale Centre, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
I feel very supported and well-looked after on my course and I know this new training facility will be able to help more people like me. I’m very passionate about seeing more people enter a breast imaging career – the more people in those positions, the more patients we can see, the quicker they can be seen and ultimately that will lead to better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with breast cancer. And a quick answer after a screening (and much relief) for those who don’t have cancer.
I love working here and thoroughly enjoy my job and the course. I hope other people might be inspired to support the appeal and think about taking up a career in breast imaging themselves.