Sharing my story: becoming a Mammography Associate apprentice
Karen Coates was the first person at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to complete the Mammography Associate (MA) apprenticeship programme. Karen shares her positive journey from chaperoning patients at the breast unit to becoming a qualified mammographer.
“After joining the Breast Services team in February 2019, I started off working in the breast unit as a chaperone and loved the patient contact. I found myself wanting to learn more and was really interested in the imaging side of things. I began asking more questions regarding the mammograms and this led to me shadowing a mammographer. Then a job was advertised and my consultant colleagues encouraged me to apply. I got the job which I was amazed at, as I had only worked for the breast unit for four months and I have never looked back since.
“One attraction of the apprenticeship programme was that it offered an extension beyond 12 months, to accommodate the fact that I was a part-time trainee, working four rather than five days a week. Knowing I had the extension of the programme to compensate for working part-time reduced the pressure and put me at ease as things can come up unexpectedly.
“I just made sure I was organised when it came to my assignments. I was also prepared to do some study in my own time at home especially preparing myself for the Maths and English exam as I needed the qualifications to reach my End Point Assessment (EPA).”
Inevitably, the pandemic also brought significant changes to the MA apprenticeship programme.
“Before the pandemic, we were having regular visits to Manchester for our training days with the girls who were also on the course, it was great to chat and support each other and knowing you’re not the only one that finds training difficult at times. I have really enjoyed learning a new skill and increasing my knowledge, I have learnt so much more about the patient pathway leading up to and after a cancer diagnosis. I feel my confidence levels have increased and I can support the patient better.
“Due to the pandemic, we stopped screening for over three months so this had a massive effect on my training and my confidence. Many of the staff were sent to join different teams to help staff on the Covid wards. There were also staff shortages due to people self-isolating so I had to assist in ultrasound many times. Working with full PPE was challenging at times especially during the heat wave!
“I would definitely recommend the Mammography Associate apprenticeship programme. It was great to have not just the practical side of learning how to get a good mammogram and learning how to adapt your technique to achieve this. But having the off-the-job-learning too was brilliant as I have learnt so much which has increased my knowledge. I have visited the path labs, MRI, MDT observed in ultrasound, followed a lady through her journey from referral from her doctor to diagnosis, surgery and her aftercare treatment and many more.
“If in the future if I would like to progress to a band 5 the mammography associate qualification has put me on the ladder to achieve this. My next step would be to perfect my technique and continue to build my confidence. I will be starting work on follow up mammograms and family history clinics. I aim to be involved in Quality Assurance and Health Promotion. During my training I was adamant I didn’t want to progress on to anything else. But you can never say never!”