1. The placement organisation and its context
Action Cancer was founded in 1973 by oncologist, Dr George Edelstyn and is Northern Irelands leading local, cancer charity. Their mission is saving lives and supporting people and they do this through cancer awareness, prevention, detection, and support. Action Cancer is currently the centre for breast cancer research in Northern Ireland.
Every year Action Cancer helps save and support 50,000 people across Northern Ireland through the delivery of their services. Some of the services provided by Action Cancer are:
· free mammograms (digital breast screenings that detect early-stage breast cancer)
· M.O.T. health checks for both men and women over 16
· complementary therapies and pain relief interventions
· therapeutic services such as counselling, coaching, and support groups
· peer mentoring
· information and advice on cancer, health, and general wellbeing
· education and prevention programmes
· health promotion programmes
· research into cancer
· Campaigning and lobbying on cancer-related issues to develop legislation and policy in Northern Ireland e.g. the bowel cancer screening campaign in 2006 and the no smoking in cars ban in 2010.
These services are delivered through the Action Cancer House, where I was situated, and on the Big Bus, which travels throughout Northern Ireland to roughly 235 locations each year.
There is a total of 82 members of staff/students employed at Action Cancer. The organisational chart I received during my induction in week two detailed the organisations structure. Action Cancer is comprised of three broad sectors;
1. Fundraising and Communications,
2. Corporate and
3. Professional Services.
During my placement, I worked in the professional services sector, more specifically, in research and evaluation. My placement mentor, Caroline Hughes, is a research and evaluation officer and director of research and evaluation and health promotions. I worked with Caroline and alongside the health promotions officers and students in the health promotions department.
Action Cancer place specialises in breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females: approximately 1,300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Northern Ireland and roughly 340 of them will lose their lives to it (breast cancer care, 2015). Regular screening and breast awareness are the best ways to reduce these numbers.
Breast screening can detect changes which might not be seen or felt during a breast examination and is available at the Action Cancer House (Monday – Friday) and on-board the Big Bus (Tuesday – Saturday). Action Cancer is the only charity in Europe to offer screening to women who fall outside the NHS range of 50-70. Screening is free of charge but costs Action Cancer £80 per screening.
Action Cancer began screening women for breast cancer in 1978 – this was the first time breast screening was introduced in Northern Ireland. Action Cancer has provided breast screenings for 135,000 women since. In 2015/2016 Action Cancer screened 10,787 women for breast cancer and for every 1,000 screenings 6 women have their cancer detected when it may have gone unnoticed.
Funding pressure is the main constraint on the organisation’s development. Action Cancer is under pressure to self-fund (through donations) £3.5 million per year in order to deliver their services. Action Cancer doesn’t receive government funding so relies entirely on donations from the public. Because the organisation is funded through donations it is important to make sure the money is being spent wisely.
Action Cancer lists providing proven services that reduce risk, raise awareness, save lives and provide support to people affected by cancer and effectively managing resources and being financially strong as two of their key principles in the strategic plan (see appendix). To do this Action Cancers research and evaluation department assess current programmes and services to make sure they are useful. This was the role I undertook whilst doing my placement at the Action Cancer research and evaluation department.
The programme I evaluated was the Why Weight? lifestyle change programme. My report and assessment would help determine the programme’s success and establish whether it was a worthwhile use of funds.
2. The psychological skills and knowledge that you were able to apply
While evaluating the report I was responsible for carrying out data audits/ quality assurance checks, inputting data, analysing data, literature reviewing and report writing. To do this I had to use some of the skills I have from my degree.
My data management skills were often used to carry out these tasks as I was responsible for data handling and entering and checking data. My statistical and analytical skills also were important as I had to be able to examine and manipulate data in SPSS and identify and evaluate general patterns to see what the data was saying. Computer skills were essential for all of these tasks. Communication skills, both oral and written, also came into play as I needed to communicate any difficulties that occurred and discuss any uncertainties and talk through what I should do. My written communication skills were also frequently used as I was writing up a report so had to be able to communicate clearly and concisely, use good grammar, correct spelling and proper punctuation in order for the report to be understandable. Being able to follow instructions and fix mistakes were also essential in my placement as I had to be able to respond to feedback and rework my report based on Caroline’s feedback.
Action Cancer specialises in breast cancer awareness, prevention, detection, support and research. The Why Weight? lifestyle change programme aimed to reduce the risk of breast cancer by promoting sustained healthy lifestyles, reducing weight, and increasing physical activity.
Government statistics show breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in Northern Ireland. Approximately 1,200 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in NI each year (nidirect, 2015). A number of studies have shown a link between diet and physical activity and increased risk of breast cancer. Most recently, Mehra, Berkowits, Sanft (2017) found that following a healthy diet and recommended physical activity guidelines was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. The Why Weight? lifestyle change intervention is based around these findings.
When I was discussing the intervention with Caroline she told me she was really inspired by the Star Model When creating the programme. The Star Model is a motivational theory and is typically used for job interviews but the idea of applying it to health related behaviours was a really interesting new interpretation and I thought this was important to look into. S.T.A.R. is an acronym for situation, task, action, results. Situation is about setting the scene, giving context and background to the situation, task is the exact duty required by the situation, action (argued to be the most important part of the model) is how you actually responded, and result is what happened as a consequence (Galbraith, 2017).
The intervention framework was based around the Star Model. For the situation aspect where participants were getting background or context to the situation they were told about the prevalence of cancer, the costs of cancer, their risk level and the impact changing their current diet, weight and physical activity would have on reducing their risk. The task aspect outlined the exact changes participants would need to make in their situation, in terms diet and physical activity. Action was the steps participants actually took for example cutting out sugary treats, exercising for half an hour each day. Action varied from participant to participant and these were the measures recorded. Result was what happened as a result of participants actions this was weight loss, decreased risk of cancer etc. the thought behind using this model to guide the intervention was get participants not to solely think about the result (losing weight) but the steps required to do this and the reason they were doing this (situation- i.e. breast cancer risk) so the end goal would be more attainable and participants would have a reason to preserve and motivate themselves with when the intervention challenged them.
The Health Benefit Model was developed in the 50s by Hochbaum, Rosenstock, and Kegels, social psychologists, working in the United States Public Health Services and to understand why a free tuberculosis screening programme had failed. In short, the HBM says a person will take a health-related action if they feel they can avoid an adverse health condition by doing so, thinks the recommended action will be successful in avoiding a negative health condition and is confident they can take the recommended action. The star model approach to the intervention tried and achieve these feelings in participants by making the programme seem realistic and do-able.
3. The skills necessary to get a job in the organisation
Action Cancer are not currently recruiting, and have not advertised any graduate level positions in the past year and a half. For this reason, I choose to look at the most recent job advert for the research and evaluation department and compare how my skills aligned as I felt this would be most up-to-date and relevant to my placement.
I would meet the first necessity listed as the degree I am studying, psychology, has a major research methods component.
The next requirement listed is having 2 years’ experience of working in evaluation, research or needs assessment. My degree is situated in a research setting and this is an area I am interested in, however, I don’t actually have legitimate work experience in this area. If I wanted to pursue this position I would have to go about closing this gap and get a job in this area firstly.
In regards to the third essential requirement, all the work I have done whilst studying has been computer based in some way or another so my IT skills are good. I have used a number of Microsoft programmes over the past number of years, including word. I am also comfortable with SPSS as this programme is used often in my degree. I am knowledgeable in a number of search engines, the internet being the most basic of these, thus using it as a research tool should cause no concern.
In regards to the fourth requirement, I have some experience in project management. When I mentored at Dominican College I managed class charity events like the Barnardo’s Children’s Toy Appeal. To raise money for these events I had to plan fundraisers. If the fundraiser was a bake sale, for example, I would have to organise which students would bring in baked goods, who would sell them, who would make posters to raise awareness etc. This involved setting deadlines/goals, making sure they were met, designating work to students based on their strengths etc. However, I have never managed a project in a professional setting so I may need to address this area further-perhaps I could do so by looking for placement experiences in project management.
Excellent report writing and presentation skills are also listed as essential requirements. I have written reports the past three years for my degree so I would say I am able to perform well in this area. I would also say my presentation skills are quite good, I understand the importance of presentations and the ones I have previously given have been marked well.
The next essential requirement is the ability to work independently. The vast majority of projects I complete for my degree are solo projects which require me to work alone and be self-reliant, so I would say I am used to working independently.
The ability to work as part of a team is also listed as essential. All of my previous jobs have required this skill, my current position at The Fort demonstrates my ability to this. For everything to work smoothly at the restaurant everyone has to work as a team, this means working cohesively with other members of staff to ensure diners are seated on time, receive the correct orders etc.
The last essential requirement would not be a concern for me; I have 10 GCSEs all A*-B (including English and Maths).
The first desirable characteristic listed is the ability to apply advanced statistical techniques. This is likely because the main expectation of the research and evaluation officer is to observe and analyse existing services and programmes. The course I am currently studying includes several statistics modules. This has given me experience with a range of statistical techniques- basic and advanced.
The next two desirable conditions are things I don’t have much experience with. I don’t have an official track record of successful project management or experience of project management, however, I do have examples of times I have displayed these abilities in my previous positions. I do realise this is not exactly the same as having an official track record of successful project management or job experience in project management, these are areas I would need to work on if I were to pursue a job like this in the future.
The fourth desirable trait was experience using both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. Through my degree, I have had the opportunity to make use of both types of research techniques and am aware of how to use the different kinds of analysis associated with each. I have consistently used both research techniques over the last few years in my degree so feel comfortable I would be able to use them in a work setting.
In relation to the last detail listed as desirable, I have a full driving license. I passed my test a number of years ago and would describe myself as a confident driver. I do not own a car personally but I do have access to one and to other forms of transportation so I would be able to meet the requirements of the post in this regard.
4. Feedback from my employer
Over the course of my placement, I got opportunities to seek out feedback from my mentor. This allowed me to reflect on my skills base and work on both personal and professional growth.
During the early stages of placement, the feedback I was receiving was direct in response to explicit questions I had asked. In my reflective diary, I record the feedback I receive in week 1 as responses to questions I had about the expectations of my role, working hours, dress code etc. This feedback allowed me to get a better understanding of the organisation but wasn’t really a chance for self-reflection.
As time went on feedback came more as a response to the work I was doing, this allowed me to start reflecting on how I performed tasks and adjust my approach when necessary. I record this type of feedback in my reflective diary in week 3. I had been checking data that had been input variable by variable and after talking to Caroline, I discovered most of the data had already been put in by a Queens’s post-grad student. This meant I didn’t have to go through as painstakingly as I had been because there was likely not many mistakes in data entering, if any. Based on this feedback I adapted my approach and began spot checking the data for quality assurance. This allowed me to manage my time more effectively. I applied this feedback again in week 4 as I continued data checking, using the spot-check method as opposed to my more laborious approach.
This type of feedback continued, and can be seen in my reflective diary again in week 4 when I noticed some participants’ data had not been input. Caroline had been involved in data collection, and confirmed some of these cases had deliberately been excluded (they were participants who had withdrawn from the study). She was also able to tell me who had been overlooked accidentally and Okayed me to put in the data for these participants. I received positive feedback for this and was praised my attention to detail.
Week 6 was an important feedback week. I received a performance review and written feedback via a feedback form from Caroline. Caroline rated me excellent on every aspect (see appendix). I, like many other students, have a tendency to doubt myself so this exercise was really confidence building. This feedback increased my belief in my own abilities, especially in areas I typically look at as shortcomings, such as oral communication.
From about week 7 onwards I was beginning to wrap up my project so feedback reverted back to being responses to questions I had about work I was completing. In my diary in week 7 I record going to Caroline to address a difficulty I was having drawing up a particular graph. She informed me although all data analysis was conducted on SPSS, graphs should be drawn up on word as she preferred how it looked and found it to be an easier approach to use when displaying data as you had more control over how it was presented. This feedback was useful as I found drawing graphs on word a lot easier because of the ability to adjust how data was presented. However, because I had been doing my previous graphs on SPSS, my report now didn’t look fluid. Therefore, I went back and redid the old graphs to match so everything would flow cohesively. I learned from this to ask before starting because there may be a simpler way of doing things. I was glad to find this out at this stage, however, because going forward I would present things in a way Caroline liked.
I handed in a draft version of my write up in week 9, Caroline went through each section of it with me and gave me lots of useful feedback and tips on my writing style and stylistic choices (examples in reflective diary). The feedback this week was really useful because Caroline has been professionally writing for a lot longer than me and was able to tell me many things I had not been aware of. I think the feedback this week may be the most useful of all the feedback I have received because it is the most applicable to my everyday life and is advice I will use in the future. I then used this feedback to submit a completed report. Caroline has since reviewed it and told me she is really pleased with how the project has turned out.