Dr Yolanda Surjan

Dr Yolanda Surjan

Senior Lecturer

School of Health Sciences (Radiation Therapy)

From hospital to paddock

Radiation therapy is a vital branch of cancer medicine. It can be used as primary treatment, as adjuvant therapy or it can be integrated into palliative care. Exposure of cancerous cells to ionising radiation introduces DNA damage, which in turn triggers cell death.

Dr Yolanda Surjan

Unsurprisingly therefore, radiation therapy services and specialists are typically found in hospitals and health service departments. Thanks to the innovative work of radiation therapist Dr Yolanda Surjan, it won’t be long before they’re a common feature of veterinary clinics too.

“We’ve identified a major gap in animal medicine – and we already have the solution.”

The state of the field

When Yolanda first heard that some veterinary clinics were using radiation therapy, she was keen to learn more.

“A colleague had mentioned that there was a local vet who had been using radiation therapy on horses. So I just picked up the phone and spoke to this vet, and he was very happy to have me down at his clinic .”

Those early discussions triggered the beginning of Yolanda’s PhD project.

Supervised by UON’s medical physicist, Associate Professor Helen Warren-Forward, and Director of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Radiation Oncology and Medical Services, Associate Professor Christopher Milross, Yolanda’s project sought to clarify the current state of veterinary radiation therapy.

“I completed a retrospective study on what had been done in the past, and I slowly developed more contacts in the veterinary field. It was a bit of a brain strain getting all of that information together."

“I learned that skin cancer in horses, particularly in and around the eye, is the most common type of cancer where people were using radiation therapy.”

Although it is legal for vets to use this type of therapy, there are few protocols to follow and no rigid planning systems in place. Improper use of radiation in medicine is extremely risky - it can leave animals permanently disfigured.

“We do a pretty good job with primary skin cancer treatment in humans these days. So I knew that there was a translation possibility there.”

Accelerating research, accelerating translation

Having submitted her PhD in 2015, Yolanda applied for the Gladys M Brawn Fellowship in the hope that relief of her teaching load might help her progress with the translation of her research.

“You just have to apply for opportunities like these and then hope for the best. When I received the fellowship, it really changed things for me – now I can concentrate on my research and fast-track its implementation.”

Another highlight of Yolanda’s career, which has also enabled her to work on the translation of her PhD findings, has been her participation in CSIRO’s On Prime industry accelerator program.

“I received an email advertising an information session about the program and it outlined who it would all be targeted towards. So I went along and had a listen and it just seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

Yolanda set to work developing a multi-disciplinary team, which at present consists of a radiation oncologist, a medical physicist, a vet, a business specialist, a consumer and Yolanda herself.

“The ON program has helped me focus on how to translate my research idea into practise and how to commercialise it."

Indeed, in moving forward with her project, Yolanda has been in consultation with a diverse array of stakeholders, including equine and small animal vets, industry partners, insurance companies and animal owners.

Yolanda’s team were one of 10 teams selected to take part in the third stage of the national sci-tech accelerator – helping hone their business planning skills to pitch to potential partners and investors. It’s been a dizzying experience – and one that’s helped Yolanda move one-step closer to her goal.

An unconventional approach

Yolanda intends to establish a clinical trial investigating the application of radiation therapy on skin tumours in horses, cats and dogs. She also aims to instil adequate training of veterinary staff such that radiation therapy can be safely embedded into routine practise.

“We know there’s a need out there – there’s a customer base for sure."

“Imagine you brought in your sick cat to the vet and they said, ‘I've got a treatment that I can offer your pet that has been trialled and proven to work in humans...’ That’s not really the way things are typically done in research – it’s all gone full circle.”

Vast differences in the rigidity in regulation between animal and human health practises may have given way to some risky practises in the past, but this flexibility has also meant that Yolanda’s plans have the potential to come together much faster than if she were focused on a human cohort.

“The animal kingdom is very different – things are able to tick over very quickly."

“Everything is already lined up so beautifully in that the similar practises are already being used in humans – it’s almost too easy!”

Award winning ideas

This pioneering approach to research translation has won Yolanda UON’s inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Innovation. This award consists of $10,000 towards the development of her project, as well as ongoing support from UON’s Business Development Team.

“We already have four clinics on board – two of which I approached and two of which approached us once they had heard about our research."

“For me, it's about the research being translated - and if it has to be through a commercial process then so be it, but just as long as it gets out there!”

From hospital to paddock

The innovative work of Dr Yoland Surjan is bringing radiation therapy into veterinary clinics.

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Career Summary

Biography

Yolanda Surjan is a lecturer in Radiation Therapy. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Health Promotion (University of Newcastle) a Masters in Health Science Education (University of Sydney) and a PhD (University of Newcastle). Yolanda has worked internationally in the United Kingdom as a radiation therapist and has extended her expertise and knowledge through international visits and/or training in North America and Europe. 

Dr Surjan has been the recipient of five teaching awards including the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Award for Teaching Excellence (2010); a NSW Minister for Education and Training Quality Teaching Award (2009); a Faculty of Health and Medicine Excellence in Teaching Award (2008) and two Vice-Chancellor's Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2008 & 2013).

Dr Surjan's program of research focuses on two distinct areas of study; evaluation of teaching and learning practice of undergraduate health professionals (radiation therapists) and research in the area of radiation therapyclinical applications in the context of translational research in veterinary cancer treatments.

Teaching

Dr Surjan's interest in Teaching and Learning research stems from the importance of graduating high-quality health care professionals to improve health care outcomes. Her research includes the following themes: clinical reasoning, effective communication, the first year student experience, interprofessional education and student engagement in learning through the delivery of innovative techniques. In 2013, Dr Surjan was the lead project manager on the development and opening of the Radiation Therapy Simulation Laboratory at a cost of $327,000, jointly funded by The University of Newcastle and Health Workforce Australia. The UON Radiation Therapy Program now boasts a complete suite of clinical applications to mirror current clinical practice; RT Simulation Laboratory, Eclipse Planning Software for treatment planning and the 3-dimensional Vertual (VERT) Training System.

Research

Research stemming from Dr Surjan's PhD studies has identified the critical need for an expert-led movement to translate current evidence based effective treatments for ocular skin squamous cell carcinoma (in humans) to our veterinarian counterparts, with a particular focus on horses. Dr Surjan is committed to collaborative research and has international affiliations with experts in the field of equine ophthalmology in the UK as well as working relationships with multiple experts in the field of radiation oncology and medical physics in oncology. Dr Surjan is committed to supporting research higher degree students and actively recruits current clinicians to contribute to cancer research collaboratively.


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Med Rad Tech), University of Newcastle
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Promotion, University of Newcastle
  • Master of Health Science (Education), University of Sydney

Keywords

  • Brachytherapy
  • First Year Experience in Education
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Equine
  • radiation therapy

Languages

  • English (Fluent)
  • Spanish (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
111208 Radiation Therapy 85
130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified 15

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Health Sciences
Australia

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
25/07/2016 - 25/07/2019 Gladys M. Brawn Fellowship The University of Newcastle - Faculty of Health and Medicine
Australia
30/03/2016 -  Deputy Chair Research Committee School of Health Sciences The University of Newcastle
School of Health Sciences
Australia

Membership

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2005 - 1/01/2011 Membership - Australian Institute of Radiography Australian Institute of Radiography

Professional appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2001 - 1/04/2001 Radiation Therapist Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital
Radiation Oncology
Australia
1/11/1997 - 1/01/2001 Radiation Therapist Prince of Wales Hospital
Radiation Oncology
Australia
1/02/1997 - 1/04/1997 Radiation Therapist Royal Free Hospital, London
Radiation Oncology
United Kingdom
1/01/1997 - 1/03/2001 Radiation Therapist Prince of Wales Hospital
Radiation Oncology
Australia

Awards

Award

Year Award
2013 Vice-Chancellor's Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning
The University of Newcastle
2010 Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning - ALTC
Australian Learning and Teaching Council
2009 NSW Premier's Quality Teaching Award
The Australian College of Educators
2008 Faculty of Health Excellence in Teaching Award
University of Newcastle
2008 UON Vice Chancellor's Citation for Excellence in Teaching
University of Newcastle

Research Award

Year Award
2016 Faculty of Health and Medicine Research Award
The University of Newcastle - Faculty of Health and Medicine
2016 Chancellor's Award for Innovation
Newcastle Innovation, The University of Newcastle
2012 Best Research Poster Award - Current use of brachytherapy treatment of periocular squamous cell carcinoma in horses: results of an Australian Survey
Proceedings of the 9th Annual Scientific Meeting of Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy (ASMMIRT)

Invitations

Contributor

Year Title / Rationale
2015 Girls Choices Summer School Round Table Dinner

Speaker

Year Title / Rationale
2015 Brachytherapy for ocular and/or periocular squamous cell carcinoma in horses
2011 Leadership Workshop
Organisation: University of Newcastle Description: Leadership Workshop University of Newcastle
2007 Course Coordinator's Workshop
Organisation: University of Newcastle Description: Course Coordinator's Workshop
2007 Sessional Teaching Day
Organisation: University of Newcastle Description: Sessional Teaching Day
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Journal article (8 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Francis A, Hills C, MacDonald-Wicks L, Johnston C, James D, Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, 'Characteristics of an ideal practice educator: Perspectives from practice educators in diagnostic radiography, nuclear medicine, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy and physiotherapy and radiation therapy', Radiography, 22 287-294 (2016)

© 2016 The College of RadiographersBackground Practice education is a compulsory component of health programs with practice educators playing a critical role in the education of ... [more]

© 2016 The College of RadiographersBackground Practice education is a compulsory component of health programs with practice educators playing a critical role in the education of students. Practice educator characteristics may positively or negatively affect student learning in practice settings. This study aimed to identify characteristics of the ideal practice educator that lead to successful practical experiences as perceived by current practice educators working in the Australian context of diagnostic radiography, nuclear medicine, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and radiation therapy. Methods All practice educators (n = 1063) on the University of Newcastle Practice Educator Database were invited to participate in this prospective, cross-sectional, descriptive study via online link or paper format. Results There was a 52% response rate. The five most valued characteristics were feedback skills, non-judgemental, professionalism, clarity and listening skills. The five least valued characteristics were scholarly activity, respect for students' autonomy, well-prepared, availability and being a role model. Comparisons between disciplines, genders, ages, years in practice and levels of supervisory experience indicated some statistically significant differences, though actual differences were small. Discussion Overall there was a high degree of agreement within and between disciplines on the characteristics of the ideal practice educator. The top five skills could be classed as generic skills and not specific clinical and practice skills, thus formal training and certification schemes may enhance practice educator competence.

DOI 10.1016/j.radi.2016.04.001
Co-authors Lesley Wicks, Helen Warren-Forward, Cath Johnston, Daphne James
2016 Perram A, Hills C, Johnston C, MacDonald-Wicks L, Surjan Y, James D, Warren-Forward H, 'Characteristics of an ideal practice educator: Perspectives from undergraduate students in diagnostic radiography, nuclear medicine, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and radiation therapy', Radiography, 22 295-305 (2016)

© 2016 The College of RadiographersBackground Practice education is a core component of undergraduate health programs, with the characteristics of the practice educator reported ... [more]

© 2016 The College of RadiographersBackground Practice education is a core component of undergraduate health programs, with the characteristics of the practice educator reported to have an influence on student experience during practical. This study analyses Australian student perceptions from six allied health professional undergraduate programs, to identify the characteristics of the ideal practice educator leading to successful placement experiences. Methods An existing survey developed for medical students was modified to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative responses. Participants included all students enrolled in six undergraduate health professions in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Newcastle, Australia (n = 1485). Students were invited to complete the survey via hard copy or online. Results There was a 54% response rate. The most valued characteristics were non-judgemental, clarity and feedback. The three least valued characteristics were scholarly activity, role model and practices evidence base practice. Students identified the importance of their relationship (respectful, inspirational and supportive) with the practice educator as being fundamental to a productive placement. Conclusion The characteristics identified by respondents were common to all six professions, with little differences between gender, year of program or number of placements completed. This study suggests that the attitude of the practice educator towards the student is one of the key factors that underpin the success of practice experience across allied health professions.

DOI 10.1016/j.radi.2016.04.007
Co-authors Lesley Wicks, Helen Warren-Forward, Cath Johnston, Daphne James
2015 Surjan Y, Ostwald P, Milross C, Warren-Forward H, 'Radiation safety considerations and compliance within equine veterinary clinics: Results of an Australian survey', Radiography, 21 224-230 (2015) [C1]

© 2014 The College of Radiographers.Objective: To examine current knowledge and the level of compliance of radiation safety principles in equine veterinary clinics within Austral... [more]

© 2014 The College of Radiographers.Objective: To examine current knowledge and the level of compliance of radiation safety principles in equine veterinary clinics within Australia. Method: Surveys were sent to equine veterinary surgeons working in Australia. The survey was delivered both online and in hardcopy format; it comprised 49 questions, 15 of these directly related to radiation safety. The participants were asked about their current and previous use of radiation-producing equipment. Information regarding their level of knowledge and application of radiation safety principles and practice standards was collected and analysed. Results: The use of radiation-producing equipment was evident in 94% of responding clinics (a combination of X-ray, CT and/or Nuclear Medicine Cameras). Of those with radiation-producing equipment, 94% indicated that they hold a radiation licence, 78% had never completed a certified radiation safety course and 19% of participants did not use a personal radiation monitor. In 14% of cases, radiation safety manuals or protocols were not available within clinics. Conclusions: The study has shown that knowledge and application of guidelines as provided by the Code of Practice for Radiation Protection in Veterinary Medicine (2009) is poorly adhered to. The importance of compliance with regulatory requirements is pivotal in minimising occupational exposure to ionising radiation in veterinary medicine, thus there is a need for increased education and training in the area.

DOI 10.1016/j.radi.2014.11.007
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2015 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Donaldson D, Ostwald T, Milross C, 'Ocular and periocular squamous cell carcinoma in horses: a short communication of the potential use of brachytherapy', The Australian Equine Veterinarian, 34 47-49 (2015) [C2]
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2014 Surjan Y, Donaldson D, Ostwald P, Milross C, Warren-Forward H, 'A Review of Current Treatment Options in the Treatment of Ocular and/or Periocular Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Horses: Is There a Definitive "Best" Practice?', Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, (2014) [C1]

This review examines the most commonly reported treatment options for ocular squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and periocular squamous cell carcinoma (POSCC) in horses and proposes t... [more]

This review examines the most commonly reported treatment options for ocular squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and periocular squamous cell carcinoma (POSCC) in horses and proposes to conclude on the most viable method based on available published studies in terms of treatment outcome, known side effects, advantages, disadvantages, and reliability of available evidence. After a literature search for peer-reviewed published articles, seven most commonly reported on treatments for OSCC and/or POSCC were identified: surgery, photodynamic therapy, carbon dioxide (CO2) laser ablation, radiofrequency hyperthermia, cryotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Combination therapies were supported as a most successful recommendation; however, when considering site-specific outcomes, the following conclusions may be drawn: limbal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) was most effectively treated with surgery and adjunctive therapy including CO2 laser ablation, mitomycin C, and brachytherapy; third eyelid SCC reported good outcomes when treated with surgery alone (clear margins) and in combination with brachytherapy for unclear margins; eyelid SCC, surgical resection was usually limited and most reports supported the use of adjunctive brachytherapy, although photodynamic therapy appeared to be a promising new treatment. It was deemed unreasonable to conclude on the best treatment for cornea, conjunctivae (palpebral and bulbar), and medial canthi in isolation because of lack of evidence. A consistently favored treatment for OSCC and/or POSCC in horses does not currently exist. The presentation of data in the literature and its lack of consistency make it impossible to statistically analyze and make comparative conclusions on treatment outcomes. This review provides a basis for further research to establish a best-practice protocol. © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

DOI 10.1016/j.jevs.2014.04.005
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
Co-authors Patricia Ostwald, Helen Warren-Forward
2011 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Milross C, 'Is there a role for radiation therapists within veterinary oncology?', Radiography, 17 250-253 (2011) [C3]
DOI 10.1016/j.radi.2011.01.004
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2010 Surjan Y, Chiarelli PE, Dempsey SE, Lyall DG, O'Toole G, Snodgrass SN, Tessier JW, 'The experience of implementing an interprofessional first year course for undergraduate health science students: The value of acting on student feedback', Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 7 1-17 (2010) [C1]
Co-authors Pauline Chiarelli, Suzanne Snodgrass, David Lyall, Shane Dempsey, Gjyn Otoole
2008 Lyall DG, Surjan Y, 'Communication and electronic access: Medical radiation science clinical centres' perspective', The Radiographer, 55 18-21 (2008) [C1]
Co-authors David Lyall
Show 5 more journal articles

Conference (9 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Milross C, Ostwald T, Donaldson D, 'Brachytherapy treatment of ocular/periocular squamous cell carcinoma in the horse: treatment results in 74 cases (1999-2007)' (2014)
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2013 Donaldson D, Surjan Y, Milross C, Warren-Forward H, 'Brachytherapy treatment of periocular squamous cell carcinoma in the horse: treatment results and recurrences in 42 cases (1999-2007)' (2013)
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2013 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Milross C, Ostwald T, Donaldson D, 'Brachytherapy treatment of periocular squamous cell carcinoma in the horse: treatment results and recurrence in 42 cases (1999-2007)' (2013)
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2012 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Milross C, Ostwald T, Donaldson D, 'Radiation protection in veterinary clinics, analysis of current practice: an Australian National Survey' (2012)
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2012 Surjan Y, Warren-Forward H, Milross C, Ostwald T, 'Current use of brachytherapy treatment in periocular squamous cell carcinoma: results of an Australian survey.' (2012)
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2011 Surjan Y, Milross C, Warren-Forward H, 'Brachytherapy treatment of periocular squamous cell carcinoma in horses: The potential for the application of radiation therapy in the veterinary sphere - Results of an Australian national survey', Proceedings of the UK Radiological Congress 2011 (2011) [E3]
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2010 Surjan Y, Milross C, Warren-Forward H, 'Is there a role for radiation therapists within veterinary oncology?', 16th ISRRT World Congress. Scientific Program (2010) [E3]
DOI 10.1016/j.radi.2011.01.004
Co-authors Helen Warren-Forward
2008 Lyall D, Surjan Y, 'New Zealand: A leading light in the joint future of multi-modality imaging' (2008)
2007 Lyall D, 'Higher Education Reforms and how they have shaped nuclear medicine science education for the future.' (2007)
Co-authors David Lyall
Show 6 more conferences
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current3

Total current UON EFTSL

Masters0.4

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2016 Masters Development and Evaluation of an Education Tool for Standardising Organ at Risk (OAR) Contouring for Head and Neck Cancer Treatment in Radiation Oncology TROG Clinical Trials
M Philosophy (Med RadiationSc), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
2016 Masters An Investigation of Strategies to Reduce Psychological Distress in Radiation Therapists
M Philosophy (Med RadiationSc), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
2015 PhD Assess the relationship between imaging measures, and biomechanical/functional & motor impairment measures
Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment - The University of Newcastle (Australia)
Co-Supervisor
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Research Projects

Radiation Therapy Simulation Laboratory 2012 - 2013

The $327,000 lab was funded by the University and the Australian government (HWA): project manager - Dr Yolanda Surjan.


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Research Collaborations

The map is a representation of a researchers co-authorship with collaborators across the globe. The map displays the number of publications against a country, where there is at least one co-author based in that country. Data is sourced from the University of Newcastle research publication management system (NURO) and may not fully represent the authors complete body of work.

Country Count of Publications
Australia 5
Ireland 2
United Kingdom 1
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News

Cancer treatment for animals on the research fast-track

December 9, 2016

A team of UON researchers is one step closer to having their research innovation delivered through a national acceleration program.

Excellence in Innovation awarded

November 22, 2016

Newcastle Innovation hosted their annual Awards ceremony on Friday 18 November at Merewether Surfhouse.

Dr Yolanda Surjan

Position

Senior Lecturer
School of Health Sciences
Faculty of Health and Medicine

Focus area

Radiation Therapy

Contact Details

Email yolanda.surjan@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 492 17850
Fax (02) 492 17053
Link Research and Innovation Cluster

Office

Room HB06
Building Hunter Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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