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Unless you’re in the patient’s shoes, you can never understand how they feel about their cancer diagnosis

Btesam is a newly qualified therapeutic radiographer in a London NHS trust. She tells us about her experiences with patient volunteers, and how they informed the work she does today.

Btesam is a City, University of London Radiotherapy and Oncology graduate and newly qualified therapeutic radiographer in a London NHS trust. She tells us about her experiences with patient volunteers, and how they informed the work she does today.

There is so much admiration and respect for patient volunteers

As a newly qualified therapeutic radiographer (a healthcare professional who plans and delivers radiotherapy), I often find myself reflecting on the first volunteer session I attended as a student. I distinctly remember the lasting impact that the service user had on everyone in attendance.

The volunteer was very kind and welcoming to all the students; she explained that she felt a little nervous as we were the first student group she had ever shared her story with. She was softly spoken but very forthcoming with her experiences and feelings as a cancer patient.

She discussed the impact of her cancer diagnosis on her loved ones and explained the difficult decisions and obstacles that she faced throughout her journey. She spoke so passionately about the healthcare professionals who truly made a difference and even shared photos with us from her cancer journey. 

I recall myself glancing around the room and seeing the admiration and respect that every student had for the volunteer who had showed so much courage and bravery in sharing their journey with us all.  

At the end of the session, when their experiences had been shared, their story had been told and our questions had been answered we all applauded the volunteer for their candor and courage. I left the session that day with my faith in humanity restored and more certain than ever that I had chosen the right career. 

When the volunteer sessions were presented to us most students jumped at the chance to hear firsthand from service users about their experiences. This was a chance to be one on one with a patient, to ask them all the questions we had and to get real insight into their experiences.  

People who have actually experienced cancer offer a unique insight

As a student, it can be very easy to get caught up in achieving all your objectives and passing your exams that sometimes you forget to consider the patient’s experience. The volunteer sessions were a great reminder for us that our clinical practice must be patient centred.  

It was extremely beneficial to hear about the impact that healthcare professionals had on the volunteer, both positive and negative. It allowed us to reflect on our clinical practice and ask the question, what kind of healthcare professional do I want to be and what impact do I want to have on my patients?  

Unless you’re in the patient’s shoes, you can never really understand how they feel about their cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

However, speaking to the volunteer gave us more insight into how we could provide patients with a more positive treatment experience. There were so many things we discussed during the session that we hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss before with academic staff or clinical educators.  

As a student, you sometimes feel nervous to ask certain questions because hospitals are a high stress environment and you worry about asking the wrong questions around clinical staff. During the volunteer sessions, however, we felt very at ease, and we were able to ask questions that would go on to inform our practice upon qualifying. 

I make sure to put my patients at the centre of my work

It’s important to remember that no matter how much theoretical knowledge we have or how well we do in our exams, all of it is useless if we are unable to apply it to our patients and their specific needs.  

When we qualify as healthcare professionals, we become responsible for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Volunteer sessions allow us to see the humanity of our patients and ultimately make us more well rounded healthcare providers.  

There is no doubt in my mind that the service user sessions I attended at university made me a more competent student and continue to inform my practice today. I feel very grateful for all the volunteers and service users who have been a part of my student journey because they have inspired me and many others to put patients first.


Involving patients and service users in healthcare education has never been more important to ensuring the best care in the future. To find out more about how we do this, visit our Humanising Healthcare page.

Humanising Healthcare

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