Students Dana Al-Qinneh and Floortje Brus with Professor Caitlin Gillan at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (photo by Sarah Khan)

Research for the radiation therapist — a Canadian first

Pediatric patients receiving radiation therapy at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre may soon be using a computer-based educational tool to understand the radiation treatment they are receiving.

But the development of this tool, a collaboration between Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and SickKids Hospital, posed some ethical challenges for research teams.

Since the researchers were directly interviewing the pediatric patients aged four to 12, they needed assent from not only the parents and guardians, but from the patients themselves.

This case – and the research ethics and challenges it involved – is one of many covered in a new book: Research for the Radiation Therapist: From Question to Culture.The first of its kind in Canada, it’s a book that fills a major void in instructional literature for the 1,800 radiation therapists across Canada.

Four University of Toronto professors, Caitlin Gillan, Lisa Di Prospero, Nicole Harnett and Lori Holden — all radiation therapists and members of the Department of Radiation Oncology — created the textbook together with 60 radiation therapy experts and students from across the country.

“Students in radiation therapy programs currently don’t have a textbook from their discipline to guide them on how to approach research,” said Gillan. “They are using textbooks from nursing and general allied health to learn about research. Although the scientific principles in these books are universal, the students have had to adapt them to radiation therapy.”

The new book provides a context for radiation therapy research, and offers practical examples from the clinical and academic experiences of its contributors. The editors invited research and health professionals to write chapters on ethics, survey methodologies and other topics.

Students and radiation therapists also contributed case studies and peer reviews. The result is a 387-page textbook with content on every phase of research, colourful case examples and insight from many perspectives, including those of a librarian and a bio-statistician. 

The editors felt it was critical to include students in the creation of the book. Floortje Brus, a third-year undergraduate student in the U of T and the Michener Institute joint Medical Radiation Sciences program, read the book cover-to-cover to identify content gaps before publication.

“As a student, and being new to research, reading this book made research appear less intimidating and more feasible to undertake,” said Brus. “When I reviewed the book, I had just started my clinical research project, so reading these chapters was very useful.” 

But the book is not only for students and novice researchers, said Gillan.  

“In addition to informing students and radiation therapists about capital 'R' research, we want to help foster a familiarity with the research world among therapists. None of us will ever work in an environment where we are not striving for evidence-based practice or engaging with patients who might require us to understand the trials and protocols that define their treatment.”

The book’s publication is a milestone for those who led and contributed to it, but Gillan and the other editors hope it will serve as inspiration and guidance for many within their field for years to come, and help build an inquiry-based culture in radiation therapy. 

Research for the Radiation Therapist: From Question to Culture, is published by Apple Academic Press. It is now available from Amazon as a book and e-book, and will soon be available at the University of Toronto Bookstore.

Sarah Khan is a writer with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

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