A newly qualified radiographer whose ground-breaking academic research helped to cut scan times for cancer patients in half has secured her first full-time medical role.
Sara Serem was appointed to the radiography team at the Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham following the completion of her studies.
Despite being a newcomer to the medical profession, the 24-year-old has already proven she is a leader in her field, completing a five-month placement at Radboud University Medical Centre (UMC) in the Netherlands to carry out pioneering research into new medical software.
Her investigation discovered whole body scan times could effectively be halved from 30 minutes to 15 minutes for prostate and breast cancer patients using new, high-quality image technology which effectively means people suffering pain do not have to lie still for any longer than absolutely necessary.
The findings were positively received and as a result she was accepted to present a poster of her findings at the Annual Congress of European Association for Nuclear Medicine in Hamburg in front of a global audience.
“It was a European event but there were people from the US and worldwide – it’s one of the biggest conferences on nuclear medicine in the world and one of the best experiences I’ve had,” said Sara, who is Portuguese.
“It was a really big exhibition and lots of people were there with their posters but I was given a few minutes to present the research, it was a really good opportunity for someone starting out in their career.”
It wasn’t the first time the graduate has been at the forefront of medical research in imaging techniques.
In 2013, while studying for her degree in radiology, she was invited to deliver an oral presentation to the European Congress of Radiology in Vienna, Austria, on research she had carried out investigating whether radiation exposure to patients could be reduced in the use of mobile x-rays.
“For this we were successfully able to prove that you could reduce the radiation dose,” she said.
“I’m not sure whether radiographers are applying what we learnt to practice but the findings were very interesting.”
Sara embarked on a radiology degree at Coimbra College of Health and Technology in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008.
She first arrived in the UK in 2012 to complete a three-month work placement in the x-ray department of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge as part of the Erasmus Programme. The scheme facilitates foreign exchanges of students within the European Union to enhance their studies and give them a broader experience of their chosen profession.
Sara combined her shifts at the hospital with classroom lessons based at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich as part of the scheme.
During her degree, Sara impressed her tutors so much that she was declared one of the most talented on the course – a title which earned her a grant towards the fees for a Masters’ degree, which she took in nuclear medicine.
It was during the second year of her Masters’ studies that she was given the opportunity of completing the research placement at the Radboud UMC. The research concentrated on new software designed for whole body bone scintigraphy and the results formed part of her final thesis.
“Normally such scans take around 30 minutes which is quite a long time to lie down and stay still, and can be very painful in patients with metastatic bone lesions,” said Sara.
“The software improves the image quality which meant we could proceed faster. We managed to reduce the scan time to 15 minutes which is a big difference not just in patient care but also in the workflow of the department.”
Her studies were so successful that not only was she invited to present the poster of her work in Hamburg, she was also named one of the best students again in her Masters’ degree – an impressive feat given that she worked as a part-time radiographer in a local hospital throughout her course.
“This was something that made me very proud to be honest, to receive it twice,” she added.
When Sara’s studies were complete, she signed up with a UK-based agency, determined to take the first steps of her career in this country.
Within a few weeks, an opportunity arose at Spire Yale Wrexham and she was offered the position.
“I enjoy my work a lot,” she said.
“The staff in the hospital are very friendly, not just my colleagues in x-ray but everyone from housekeeping through to the matrons.
“The patients are all so different with different requirements. I’m learning something new every day.”
Sue Jones, the Hospital Director of Spire Yale, said: “We are all extremely proud of Sara’s achievement and the international recognition her research has gained.
“The fruits of her work could have far-reaching and positive consequences in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer which is good news for the patients concerned.
“Sara is an extremely popular member of staff her and a great asset to our service at Spire Yale Hospital and at our consulting rooms in Abergele.”