Charles Sturt radiography students based in Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Port Macquarie reflect on how they hope their degree will take them into a career in diagnostic mammography or breast screening ahead of Pink Ribbon Day and during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A new piece of technology acquired by Charles Sturt University will help its students stay ahead of the game for breast cancer screening and detection.
Breast cancer became the most diagnosed cancer worldwide in 2021 and it is estimated 20,030 females and 164 males in Australia will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
Students in the Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science (Diagnostic Radiography) will now benefit from learning on a modern Hologic Selenia Dimensions 3D digital mammography system, donated by Sonic Healthcare to the Sheldon Pavilion Radiology Labs in Wagga Wagga.
The machine will be operational in Wagga Wagga from November and allow students hands-on experience on campus.
Charles Sturt Associate Head of School (Medical Radiation Science and Pharmacy) Associate Professor Kelly Spuur said the new equipment will better engage students and increase interest in mammography.
Associate Professor Spuur has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and is excited to see a new generation of student radiographers able to benefit from on campus access to this technology at Charles Sturt.
“Mammography is an important and highly-specialised modality, typically pursued by female radiographers, and not always viewed as an early career option,” she said.
“If students take an interest in the modality early on, it may mean that they seek postgraduate training sooner and perhaps progress a career with a mammography focus.”
Academics trained in mammography are available to teach mammography as part of the new Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science course, which Associate Professor Spuur said adds another element to the teaching.
Mammography is taught in the third year of the degree with increasing interest in the specialisation.
Ms Cottrell grew up in the Riverina, attending St Paul’s College at Walla Walla before attending Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga to remain closer to her family’s farm.
She said breast cancer is prevalent in her family and, with 55 Australians diagnosed with breast cancer each day, most people know a friend or family member diagnosed with the condition.
“This disease is a large part of people’s lives and the thought of achieving early diagnosis to improve outcomes is motivating,” she said.
“This experience, the significance of the career and the workforce demand are all motivating points for me wanting to study mammography.”
Ms Cottrell said the practical component of Charles Sturt’s degree, and access to technology such as the Hologic Selenia Dimensions 3D system, gives students the confidence and knowledge to enter the workforce.
And thanks to her rural background, Ms Cottrell knows the importance of keeping medical professionals in regional areas.
Difficulties accessing medical care due to border closures and lockdowns further showed the need to keep medical professionals in rural and regional NSW.
“I think the past few years have demonstrated the importance of staying local and having the health services you need locally,” she said.
“Screening for early diagnosis enables timely treatment, but if being stuck in your local government area means you cannot access the services you need, it defeats the purpose.”
Fourth-year student Ms Martyka Schlumpf has studied at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga and is studying online during her final year.
She is currently on a 36-week placement with PRP Diagnostic Imaging in Dubbo.
“I think training students in regional areas can help increase the likelihood of them working regionally after graduation,” she said.
Ms Schlumpf became interested in radiography during high school but was inspired to pursue mammography through the passion and encouragement from Associate Professor Spuur.
“Mammography is unlike other imaging modalities; it can be challenging and rewarding,” Ms Schlumpf said.
“I’m interested in mammography because I want to provide people the best possible care. Many women are anxious about mammograms and I want to improve their experience.”
Ms Schlumpf is in her final year and wants to work in a public hospital in a rural location before eventually working for BreastScreen Australia.
Ms Joanne Fitzgerald is currently in her fourth year of study but will complete her degree over five years in Port Macquarie and online.
She had a career in sound and lighting and visual merchandising but wanted to switch to a rewarding role in health care.
Ms Fitzgerald is completing her Honours research in mammography with supervisor Associate Professor Kelly Spuur.
“This opportunity has provided me with foundation knowledge in both research and mammography practice and I am excited to see the work eventually published,” she said.
“With breast cancer being the most diagnosed cancer, it is essential students understand the disease and its impacts on Australians and mammography practice.
“As a patient, going to get a mammogram or biopsy can be daunting so we need supportive radiographers who understand and recognise this among clients and patients and who can provide appropriate and empathetic care during this time.”
Ms Fitzgerald said Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Pink Ribbon Day are crucial in raising awareness in the broader community and funds for breast cancer research and support services.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Australia and Wednesday 20 October is Pink Ribbon Day, which raises funds and awareness for breast cancer treatment and research.