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My Experience as an Associate Medical Photographer

Embarking on a new career...

I joined Illingworth Research 4 years ago, as an Assistant Administrator for the Research Nursing Department. I had never worked for a clinical research company before, or indeed any kind of medical related company so I suddenly found myself in a world very unfamiliar to me.

My background is in art & design, having worked in the field of photography for many years in a variety of settings including aboard cruise ships, portrait studios and in secondary & further education.

Becoming a full-time member of the Medical Imaging department was always my goal, but I'm grateful for the 3 years spent in the Research Nursing department too, as this has given me an insight into understanding drug development life cycles & what our Research Nursing department provides in the world of clinical trials. The experience afforded me an understanding of the different types of clinical trials that we are involved in globally and an appreciation of the invaluable service our Research Nurses provide to the vulnerable, across a range of therapeutic areas.

Professional Development & Learning...

Working toward my goal, I gradually began transitioning across from the Research Nursing department into the Medical Imaging department a couple of days a week as a Trainee Medical Photographer. Kevin Jacob and Sarah Devaney had always made me feel one of the team, even when I wasn’t officially working in the department.

I have learnt so much since April 2018.  Initially I began shadowing Sarah on tasks such as quality checking medical images received from investigator sites, including observing face to face site training. I moved on to helping with the setting up of photographic equipment to ship to sites ready for study activity; being introduced to innovative equipment via external clients; and spending time with other medical photography depts. in the NHS, to gain an oversight of the work that’s involved. This was particularly beneficial to understand how medical photography fits into the wider healthcare community.

Since March 2019, I have been working in the Medical Imaging department as a fulltime Associate Medical Photographer. During this time, I have been exposed to the clinical operations side of the company, which has presented new challenges and kept me on my toes! The technical side of the role has been a learning curve so far, as medical photography is a world apart from portraiture, reportage and fine art, and the learning will continue as I refine my skills for the medical industry. I'm learning practical elements from Kevin, such as various types of camera equipment to use and how to set it up in relation to a particular study, and the impact upon whether the photography is a primary or secondary endpoint.

I've learnt the complexities of capturing medical imagery in a consistent and standardised approach with a high-quality outcome. Completing the Clinical Illustration Graduate Certificate has certainly provided a broader understanding of how to capture a diverse range of imagery including dentistry, ophthalmology, surgery, skin conditions and marketing in healthcare. Each area requires a different skill and understanding of diverse equipment and the lighting methods in which to use it.

Medical photography is also about empathising with the patient and being aware of their condition and how it can affect them both physically and mentally, not just about the technical qualities. For me, the surgery module was the most challenging, yet also the most interesting, which consequently resulted in my best achievement. It was a different perspective to meet the patient and speak with them, as opposed to just viewing the result on a computer monitor.

Whilst training, I attended the IMI (Institute of Medical Illustration) conference - the timing of which was extremely valuable to me. The abundance of presentations meant that the information I was learning on my course was being reinforced at the conference and I could see how it was all coming together. This has been a real highlight in the past 2 years.

The qualification has also given me a better understanding of the bigger picture.  I've covered the legal and ethical perspective: understanding the importance of patient consent and copyright. I've covered anatomy and physiology. I've also covered the different uses of software, with telemedicine coming to fruition, as well as digital imaging and storage. For me, this course was certainly a challenge, but so worthwhile and happily achieved.

Building on & Sharing my New Skills...

Alongside my studies, I have had the opportunity to enhance my project management skills too, by running my first study from start to finish. I have enjoyed being able to take some ownership of the study and seeing it through, with the help and support from Kevin, on aspects that were new to me. Being involved in the study from the start equipped me with the knowledge required and gave me more confidence in terms of correspondence with the Sponsor and the site staff to answer questions or discuss my thoughts with Kevin.

I have felt very confident with the training aspects of the studies I’ve been involved with for the majority, from explaining how to use the camera, capturing images in accordance with our user guides and putting my teaching skills to good use, which I’ve enjoyed.  It’s been interesting to see what test images we receive in the training stage from dolls to teddy bears and other fluffy toys from around the world, you never quite know what you will be presented with when opening up an image file!

Offering feedback has been a little more difficult for me, as I want to be able to give the most honest and informative feedback to help the site staff to improve with each photography session, but sometimes budget doesn’t always allow for this, which can be a little frustrating at times…

Life in Medical Imaging at Illingworth Research...

I’ve realised that medical photography isn’t all about the technicalities, often we are asked to take images for Business Development or create training videos for other departments such as Clinical Services, Research Nursing and IT. I haven’t had much experience in commercial PR style photography or video, this has been yet another learning curve, where Sarah has shared her skillset with me.

As the job is often study management, I always enjoy the opportunity to be more creative and work with the wider Illingworth team face to face. The Illingworth departmental Christmas videos stand out as a great example - bringing the Research Nursing recruitment team’s vision to life was great fun and helped develop my video editing knowledge and skills. The result was a short video I am proud of, having filmed, edited and managed from start to finish.

I enjoy the camaraderie within the imaging department, we are a small close-knit team, that fits into the Illingworth Research Group’s offerings well. In the past couple of years I have realised that what our department at Illingworth Research offers is very different from those Clinical Photographers working in the NHS, but it’s all linked, as we work not only with global investigator sites, but with the NHS trusts within the UK too. I feel proud to be a part of the bigger picture in the field of clinical research and medical photography.

Sarah Holland