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Ciaran Jones, NHS radiotherapy technician apprentice

Ciaran Jones is in his final year of a three-year advanced apprenticeship and working at The University Hospital of North Midlands. He tells us why he chose to become an apprentice.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship?

I always wanted to pursue a career in engineering. Throughout school I found that I learnt better and understood more fully when I was able to relate the concepts to their application. An apprenticeship would allow me to gain workplace experience whilst working towards my qualifications and provided a perfect way to start my career.

What qualifications did you leave school with?

When I started my apprenticeship, I had nine GCSE’s A-C and a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in engineering. I studied physics until GCSE and it was always a subject that I enjoyed but I couldn’t see how it related to my future career in engineering. However once I started my apprenticeship, I started to see how important my understanding of physics was. To understand many of the jobs I get tasked with and the machines I am working with, you need a good physics understanding. I am now working with machines that accelerate electrons where the famous equation E = mc2 is fundamental to how the machine operates.

What level apprenticeship are you studying towards and where do you work?

I am currently in the final year of a three-year advanced apprenticeship and working at The University Hospital of North Midlands. Once I have completed my advanced apprenticeship I plan to start a two year degree top up which, when completed, means I’ll have a Higher National Diploma and a degree in electrical and electronic technology in addition to a level 3 NVQ.

What does your job involve?

I am based in the radiotherapy technical services department at the hospital. I get to work alongside a team of highly skilled and experienced engineers who are in charge of the maintenance of any repairs required for the hospital's high-tech and expansive medical machinery. In addition to the maintenance of the machines, we administer our own IT oncology system, design and create specialist oncology equipment such as patient aids and staff protection and have responsibility for quality assurance checks alongside a team of engineers and physicists to ensure the equipment is operating as it should and within the specified parameters.

What’s the work/study balance like?

My week is split between college and the hospital. On Mondays I go to college and attend classroom lessons which count towards my foundation degree in electrical and electronic technology, and I spend the rest of the week working with the radiotherapy technical services department.

What skills have you gained?

The apprenticeship has allowed me to gain valuable skills within engineering, including expanding my fault-finding ability and knowledge in the different areas of radiotherapy engineering. During my time at the hospital I have been learning how liner accelerators work (these are the devices used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer – they work by delivering high-energy x-rays or electrons to the region of the patient's tumour) as well as how to maintain, repair and complete quality assurance checks of these complex machines.

I have been gaining new skills through both practical and theoretical training and have been given every opportunity to complete training on various pieces of mechanical workshop equipment such as: pillar drills, lathes, milling machine, grinders, MIG welding, TIG welding and arc welding. This has given me both the skills and confidence to complete projects. Given the opportunity to help with projects such as the installation of the latest truebeam (a type of liner accelerator) allows me to see how they are built from the ground up, giving me a much better understanding of how they work. This ultimately allows me to fault find and maintain them effectively and efficiently.

No two days within the technical services are ever the same and you don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. This has allowed me to develop the skills to take on tasks and make decisions. This has helped me both inside and outside of work to adapt to different situations quickly and effectively. Working for the NHS also gives you a sense of accomplishment that I don’t think you get with many engineering jobs as with most engineering jobs you are working towards an inanimate object. With this job you are working to help the treatment of patients through life-saving equipment. 

What advice would you give to somebody considering an apprenticeship?

I would encourage them to consider it as an option. An apprenticeship allows you to put what you learn in college or university into a real-life practical situation. This gives you valuable skills that you could not expect to learn through the academic route only. I would encourage anyone wanting to go into engineering to find a company to complete work experience. This gives you a first-hand experience of what it is like to work in the industry. It is where I started and I have no regrets coming towards the end of my advanced apprenticeship.

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