Posted Thursday 5 August 2010
Francesca Houston became fascinated with radiography after she underwent lots of scans and X-rays for a dental problem as a teenager. But having set her heart on a career as a radiographer she was devastated when she narrowly missed the grades she needed.
Undeterred, Francesca, 20, phoned Kingston University's Clearing Hotline to find out what was available. Before she knew it she had landed a place on a three-year BSc (Hons) course in Diagnostic Radiography, run in partnership with St George's, University of London.
Two years on Francesca is a hotline volunteer herself and will be advising students who either do not get the A-level grades they expected or who do better than expected and want to get a place on a popular course. She advised students to stay calm when they get their results and to phone universities as soon as possible. An open mind was also crucial, said Francesca. "Even if you think you know what you want to do, it's always worth seeing what else is available," she said.
Student hotline operators like Francesca will be taking callers' details, including their A-level results, and if they meet course requirements they will put them in touch with an academic to see if they can be offered a place.
Francesca's course involves using high-tech equipment to produce images for medical diagnosis. She said the course was demanding because it involved academic study alongside practical placements in hospitals. "You spend 40 weeks out of 52 at university and it's generally 9am-4pm four days a week in hospital plus one study day a week," she said. "The best thing about the course is the placements - you see a lot of patients in a short period of time and it's really satisfying when you're able to help someone who at first seems difficult or afraid."
Francesca's interest in radiography began at the age of 16 while she was a pupil at St Ivo Sixth Form College in Cambridgeshire. Some complicated dental problems - now resolved - meant she had to go to an orthodontic clinic for specialist X-rays and scans. With a mother who is a nurse, she was also attracted to working in a hospital.
Once she had decided on a degree subject, Francesca thought about where in the country she wanted to study. "Kingston is a great location - I wanted to be in a city and because there are lots of good hospitals in the area I can do my placements and still come back to my student friends each evening rather than having to live out of a suitcase," Francesca explained.
She shares a house in Surbiton with two other students on the same course - which has benefits beyond friendship and support. "Because we're all out of the house all day we can turn the heating and everything off - it saves a huge amount on bills," said Francesca.
Along with others on her course, Francesca helps first year students with practical work and last year she was a 'freshers' angel' which included helping at a welcome barbecue. She has also been a student ambassador - organising a team of six to sell tickets to the Freshers' Ball and handing out leaflets about the university at marketing events. She is also in the Wine Society and a member of the university's basketball team. "I'm 6ft so you might think I have an advantage but one of our best players is only 5ft 1ins - you don't have to be tall to join."