Early Career Resilience: Interdisciplinary Insights to Support Professional Education of Radiation Therapists

J Med Imaging Radiat Sci. 2014 Dec;45(4):390-398. doi: 10.1016/j.jmir.2014.09.003.


Background: A number of studies across a range of countries have indicated a proportion of the radiotherapy workforce may be experiencing burnout. Furthermore, current national attrition from UK radiotherapy training programs is approximately 36%. The consequence is a potential shortfall in qualifying practitioners. The loss of skilled practitioners from the workplace through burnout and a reduction in the numbers qualifying at a time of rising cancer referrals have implications on the ability of radiotherapy services to keep pace with demand. A report from the College of Radiographers on the factors affecting attrition from UK training programs recommends the development of emotional resilience as part of the educational preparation for therapists, but failed to identify specific interventions that may help. Radiation therapists are not unique in terms of their exposure to the potential of burnout, and other professionals share similar concerns. In this article, we report on an interdisciplinary study of professional resilience, which indicates that there is much we can learn from other professions that are engaged in emotional labour. The concept of "resilience" is important in retention studies, but research in this field is limited by a lack of detailed accounts of resilience in specific professional contexts with few accounts of strategies in professional education to develop resilience.

Aim: The purpose of this study was to identify what supports and hinders the development of professional resilience in early career professionals and in professions involving emotional and moral challenge, such as radiation therapy, and what creative pedagogical approaches may help to develop resilience.

Methods: Using a mixed method design, more than 50 participants were invited to participate from radiotherapy, social work, and teacher education. A combination of survey research, interpretative interviews, and innovative group activities were used across four key groups; early career professionals, current students, higher education lecturers, and work-based professionals who support students. Purposive sampling was undertaken with codes, themes, and texts used iteratively to develop an understanding of professional resilience. Coding was informed by principles of constructivist grounded theory to allow for the identification of themes. Peer debriefing was used to agree on the coding structure, and member checking was used to confirm identified themes with research participants.

Results: Emergent themes indicate resilience is dependent on a complex interplay between individual and organizational (or situated) characteristics.The key concepts were (1) transitions: new identity demands; (2) organizational and systemic issues: being treated unfairly, team culture, difficult cases, feedback and support, and professional demands; (3) personal characteristics: personal actions and personal qualities (accepting, confidence, forms of reflection, interpersonal skills, and positive psychology); and (4) professionality: agency, commitment, moral purpose, and value.

Conclusion: By addressing issues of resilience, course credibility is enhanced as a preparation for professional life, with a subsequent corollary of reduced attrition.The data from this study can be used to inform a creative curriculum to enhance professional resilience in students and early career professionals.

Keywords: Professional resilience; curriculum development; inter-professional.