Article: Health and Medicine - With the Patient
This article covers the following jobs:
- Cardiac Physiologist
- Diagnostic Radiographer
- General Practitioner
- Healthcare Assistant
- Health Promotion Practitioner
- Nurse - Adult/General
- Operating Department Practitioner
- Respiratory Physiologist
- Therapeutic Radiographer.
The job descriptions are only a brief summary. You should find out more about the careers that interest you.
Video: - Various: Health and Medicine
Finding out what's wrong with someone is called diagnosis. The doctor looking after a patient has overall responsibility for diagnosing their condition. Other medical staff might help the doctor to do this.
General practitioners (GPs) give medical advice and treatment to people living in the local area. They usually see patients in their office at the surgery, although they might also do emergency home visits.
GPs listen carefully as patients describe their symptoms, for example, where they feel pain and for how long they have been experiencing this.
The GP might need to ask some careful questions to draw out more information from the patient. They will also look at notes on the patient's medical history: these are usually kept on a computer.
Then, they might need to physically examine the patient. This can include listening to their heart, looking into their ears or throat, and taking their blood pressure. GPs use various instruments and types of equipment during physical examinations.
Sometimes, GPs must refer the patient to a specialist consultant at hospital for further tests, if they are unable to make a diagnosis.
GPs give their patients information, advice and reassurance. Treatment could be through a prescription or minor surgery. Sometimes, GPs have to refer patients to hospital for treatment.
To become a GP, you need to complete a degree in medicine and then have several years of further training.
Doctors use their knowledge of medicine to prevent, diagnose and treat ill-health.
There are very many different types of doctor, with over 60 specialist areas (specialties). Broadly, the two main types of doctor are:
- general practitioner (or family doctor)
- hospital doctor.
Hospital doctors can specialise in many areas, such as:
- accident and emergency
- the heart (cardiology)
- cancer (oncology)
For most doctors, contact with patients is an essential part of the role. Apart from treatment, they give the patient information, advice, support and reassurance.
Most doctors share broadly similar methods and approaches. A doctor is a bit like a detective, putting together pieces of evidence so they can make a diagnosis.
They have to examine the patient, note symptoms, test their diagnosis, decide on the best form of treatment and then keep careful track of the patient's progress.
Sometimes, it will be enough to give advice, for example, to rest for a few days. Or, the doctor might prescribe a medicine for the patient to take. With serious illnesses, the doctor might refer the patient for surgery or a treatment such as radiotherapy.
Doctors are usually part of a team, working with people such as nurses, midwives, therapists, radiographers and other types of doctor.
To become a doctor, you must usually complete a five-year degree course in medicine, followed by further training. After this, you can specialise, for example, as a GP or surgeon.
Diagnostic radiographers produce images of the body to help doctors diagnose disease or injury. They use a variety of complex, often computer-controlled radiological equipment to create the images on film or computer screens.
For example, they use X-rays to examine bones and find objects that should not be in the body. Other techniques include ultrasound to scan pregnant women, and computed tomography to create 3D cross-section images of the body.
Diagnostic radiographers use their knowledge to interpret the images, also working with doctors and other members of the team. They pass images on to specialist doctors (radiologists) for diagnosis.
Diagnostic radiographers make sure the patient is exposed to the minimum amount of radiation necessary to produce a clear image. They also have to protect themselves from radiation while operating the equipment.
To become a diagnostic radiographer, you must complete a degree or postgraduate course in diagnostic radiography, leading to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council.
Cardiac physiologists test and monitor people who are suspected of having heart problems, or who have been diagnosed with these.
Their findings help doctors to make a diagnosis and decide how to treat the patient.
Cardiac physiologists use equipment, for example, to record heart rhythm, measure electrical activity in the heart, assess blood circulation and take blood pressure readings.
They also work closely with patients who have pacemakers, making sure they are comfortable and work properly.
To become a cardiac physiologist, you can complete a degree in healthcare science that allows you to train in cardiac physiology. You could also start training if you have a science degree.
Neurophysiologists carry out tests on people to measure the electrical activity of their brain and nervous system. Accuracy and attention to detail are very important in this work.
For example, neurophysiologists can use an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine to help doctors diagnose problems such as epilepsy, stroke and inflammation of the brain.
They also test patients' reactions to stimuli such as flashing lights, to help diagnose neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
Neurophysiologists might also monitor a patient's brain while they are asleep or having an operation.
To become a neurophysiologist, you can complete a degree in healthcare science with a neurophysiology pathway. You could also start training if you have a science degree.
Respiratory physiologists use equipment to test and measure patients' breathing. This helps doctors to diagnose lung diseases and problems with breathing, and to monitor treatment.
They use a range of equipment, which is often linked up to computers. The physiologist sets up the equipment needed to take a particular set of measurements. Then, they take a series of readings from the equipment and record the results, making sure they are accurate.
To become a respiratory physiologist, you can complete a degree in healthcare science that allows you to train in respiratory and sleep physiology. You could also start training if you have a science degree.
Audiologists test people's hearing, finding and measuring hearing loss. They also work with patients who have balance problems and conditions such as tinnitus.
They use specialist equipment such as audiometers to assess and measure hearing.
Audiologists work closely with patients, giving them support and advice. They help patients to overcome and cope with difficulties.
If the patient needs a device such as a hearing aid, the audiologist will select one that best meets their needs. They also give the patient advice on how to use the aid, and support to help them come to terms with wearing it.
To become an audiologist, you can complete a degree in healthcare science (audiology). You could also start training if you have a science degree.
Medical treatment could involve surgery, medicine or a combination of the two. The patient might also need medical care from people such as nurses and healthcare assistants.
Nurse - Adult/General
Adult/general nurses treat patients over the age of 16. They meet the physical and emotional care needs of their patients, who might have a short- or long-term illness or injury, or be disabled.
Within adult nursing, there are many areas of work. For example, nurses could be involved in cancer care, intensive care, recovery after operations or looking after older people.
They work in hospital wards and in many other places, including community health centres, GPs' surgeries, specialist clinics, prisons and private companies. Some nurses visit patients in their own homes.
Adult nurses plan how to meet the patient's care needs, working closely with doctors and other medical staff. They monitor the patient's progress, changing the plan if they need to.
Practical nursing might involve:
- checking temperatures
- giving drugs and injections
- helping doctors to examine patients
- dressing wounds and changing bandages.
Increasingly, the health service uses complex equipment to help with patient care, and nurses are often responsible for monitoring this. They also record their observations and any treatment they give.
To become a nurse, you need to complete a degree in nursing. You would need to specialise in adult nursing during the course.
Healthcare assistants carry out routine health care for patients in hospital. Assistants also work in the community, including in people's own homes. They work under the supervision of a nurse or another medical professional.
They have tasks such as:
- making beds and changing linen
- bathing patients, helping them to dress and undress
- enabling patients to get to the toilet or use a bedpan
- taking temperature, weight and pulse measurements
- testing urine samples
- changing dressings.
To become a healthcare assistant, you don't usually need any academic qualifications. However, GCSEs in Maths and English are useful. Training is on-the-job, possibly leading to qualifications at levels 2 and 3.
Perfusionists set up and control equipment that takes over from the heart and lungs during operations. This equipment pumps blood around the body and replaces carbon dioxide with oxygen in the blood.
Before an operation, the perfusionist sets the equipment up. They monitor the equipment during the operation. They check to see whether the patient is getting enough oxygen and that carbon dioxide is not building up in their blood.
They also check that the patient's blood pressure remains stable. They adjust the equipment if necessary.
Teamwork is essential: perfusionists work very closely with surgeons, anaesthetists, operating department practitioners and other support staff. The perfusionist has a very high level of responsibility for the patient's safety.
To enter a training post, you'll need a degree in a relevant science subject, usually biological science. You then study part-time for a postgraduate qualification in perfusion science.
Operating Department Practitioner
Operating department practitioners help anaesthetists and surgeons during operations. They also work alongside theatre nurses and other healthcare staff.
They make sure that all the equipment is in good working order, and items such as drugs and syringes are in the right place. They bring the patient into the operating theatre and prepare them for surgery.
During the operation, they hand instruments to the surgeon and afterwards dispose of used swabs and dressings. They reassure and monitor the patient when they come round from their anaesthetic.
To enter this job, you usually need to complete a diploma of higher education (DipHE) in Operating Department Practice.
Therapeutic radiographers use radiation to treat diseases, especially cancer. They control complex equipment that delivers the radiation, usually X-rays, to the diseased part of the body.
Before the treatment begins, they explain the process, and possible side-effects, to the patient. As the treatment goes on, they give the patient support, information and reassurance.
Therapeutic radiographers work out the location and size of the tumour, and the radiation dose needed, working to avoid damage to healthy, surrounding parts of the body.
Treatment usually takes place over a number of days or weeks, with rest periods in between. The radiographer positions the patient under the equipment, which they then control to treat the cancer from different angles.
Throughout treatment, radiographers keep careful track of the patient's progress, talking to them about their concerns and helping them to cope with any side-effects caused by the effect of radiation on surrounding normal cells.
To enter this career, you'll need a degree or postgraduate qualification in therapeutic radiography, leading to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council.
Surgeons operate on patients in hospital. They work very skilfully with their hands, using a range of instruments, techniques and types of equipment.
They also use their specialist knowledge of medical and scientific areas such as anatomy, pathology and physiology.
Apart from operating, surgeons spend time talking to and reassuring patients, explaining the need for surgery, the process and risks involved, and the chances of success. Surgeons also help to manage the care of the patient after the operation.
Most surgeons specialise in a particular area of surgery, such as heart, brain or plastic surgery.
To become a consultant surgeon, you usually need to complete a five-year degree course in medicine and then around ten years' further training.
Anaesthetists are experts on anaesthetics, which are things that stop us feeling pain during operations. Apart from surgery, they are involved in areas such as long-term pain management, and intensive care.
They are part of a team, working with surgeons, nurses and operating department practitioners.
On the day of the operation, they examine the patient to make sure they are fit for surgery. They discuss the type of anaesthetic they will use and how they will control pain.
They might give the anaesthetic as a drop, spray, ointment or injection. Or, the patient might breathe in gases through a mask. With a local or regional anaesthetic, the patient is awake but feels no pain. With a general anaesthetic, they are unconscious.
During the operation, anaesthetists must keep a close eye on the patient. They use equipment to check things such as heart rate and blood pressure. Immediately after the operation, they continue to monitor the patient's progress, until it is safe for the patient to be taken to a ward.
Entry is through a degree in medicine, followed by many more years of training and experience.
Health promotion and education
In the UK, many diseases can be prevented by changes in diet and lifestyle. For example, taking more exercise, eating healthily and giving up smoking can help to prevent heart disease and some types of cancer.
Many medical professionals have a role in raising our awareness of issues such as diet, exercise, smoking, mental health and sexual health. For example, a GP might give advice during an appointment at their surgery.
There are also health promotion practitioners, whose main role is to educate people about these health issues.
Health Promotion Practitioner
Health promotion practitioners educate people of all ages about how to have a healthier lifestyle. They research local health issues, plan campaigns to promote particular messages about health issues, and evaluate the results.
If they have found, for example, that heart disease is a particular problem in a local area, a health promotion practitioner might organise a campaign, encouraging people to eat less fatty food and start getting regular exercise.
The practitioner would start by deciding which form the campaign should take (maybe fun runs or sponsored swimming) and would then advertise the campaign by producing posters and leaflets, and contacting local newspapers.
They give talks to groups, for example, in schools and the community, about health issues. They also work with other health professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists and midwives to jointly promote health education.
Health promotion practitioners are usually graduates. Relevant degree subjects include health promotion, social sciences, food science and nutrition, and biological science.
Entry is also possible with a professional qualification, in areas such as nursing, teaching, social work and medicine.
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Society of Radiographers
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Society for Cardiological Science and Technology (SCST)
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College of Operating Department Practitioners (CODP)
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Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland
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Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP)
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British Academy of Audiology (BAA)
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Irish Institute of Radiography and Radiation Therapy (IIRRT)
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