Working life: Alicia O’Leary

“I am responsible for safe delivery of treatment”

Alicia O’Leary, radiation therapist (RT) and medical dosimetrist, UPMC Hillman Cancer Centre, Waterford

8am

I leave home in beautiful Lismore and stop for coffee on the 45-minute drive to work. I’m hooked on podcasts and today’s choice is Casefile - True Crime Podcast.

9am

I organise fortnightly lunchtime education sessions for staff covering a range of oncology topics. I follow up with a consultant breast surgeon from University Hospital Waterford who is coming to talk to us about reconstruction after mastectomy and post-mastectomy radiation therapy (PMRT).

I’m responsible for safe delivery of treatment to cancer patients using high-energy X-ray beams on a machine known as a linear accelerator. I’m currently working in radiotherapy planning as a medical dosimetrist where I work within a team to plan how the optimal dose of radiation can be delivered, while minimising dose to healthy tissue.

10am

I work on a radiotherapy treatment plan for a breast cancer patient. This patient received a specific radiotherapy planning CT scan where a radiation oncologist highlighted the tumour prior to surgery and provided me with a prescription of how much radiation he would like her right breast to receive. The lungs, heart, spinal cord and organs are in the treatment area. I limit radiation to these as much as possible.

12pm

I tend to a patient receiving her first treatment of radiation to her left breast using a technique known as “Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold”. The patient is asked to breathe in and hold their breath while we deliver the radiation beam. By holding their breath, the lungs expand and move the breast and chest wall away from the heart, enabling us to deliver the optimal amount of radiation to the tumour, while sparing the dose to the heart.

1pm

Lunch with colleagues.

2pm

At a multi-disciplinary team meeting to ensure all disciplines are updated on all cases, and possible solutions discussed.

3pm

Seven new patients have radiotherapy planning CT scans today. I highlight organs on the CT scan that may be at risk of radiation exposure, and prepare the scan for the radiation oncologist before he delineates the area to receive radiation.

6pm

I enjoy attending adult gymnastics in WIT Arena with eight colleagues. I’m also training to be a yoga teacher.

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