First Laura Acton Prize awarded in memory of committed radiography student

A radiography apprentice who has shown great progress in her studies has won the first prize awarded in memory of a fellow student.

Paula Russ, from Dorchester in Dorset. was last night awarded the first Laura Acton Prize, from the University of Exeter. The award has been set up to commemorate Laura, who died of an asthma attack in the midst of her studies. The mother-of-two, had been studying her Degree Apprenticeship in Radiography at Exeter. She was awarded a certificate of higher education posthumously in December.

Laura’s lecturers said she was deeply missed, and the prize in her memory was a fitting tribute, recognising people who have come into studying radiography via non-conventional routes, and progress well. Laura was an apprentice diagnostic radiographer in Poole, where she had been working alongside the healthcare team for a number of years before signing up to the apprenticeship.

Christine Heales, Programme Lead for the BSc (Hons) Diagnostic Radiography & Imaging degree, on behalf of the team, said: “Laura was a really lovely person and an excellent team member. She was extremely well thought of here in Exeter, and in Poole where she worked. She was excited about progressing into radiography, and she showed such commitment towards helping her family during the pandemic despite her own personal struggles at times. She was someone who had a smile, even when things were tough for her.

“This prize is a fitting tribute because there are many routes into radiography, and we want to celebrate people like Laura, who don’t come via the standard academic route. It celebrates progress, a measure of success borne of hard work and commitment, which Laura showed. Congratulations to Paula, who is a very worthy winner.”

Christine Heales

Prize winner Paula Russ was recognised for making progress over specific modules of study. She said: “I cried when I found out I’d won. I met Laura during our modules and she was lovely. It’s really poignant, and also a huge honour.”

Laura’s husband, Ryan Acton, said: ““Laura is extremely well-loved and incredibly sorely missed by all her family and co-workers. Becoming a radiographer was Laura’s dream and her strength and resilience in life showed her desire to improve day by day in everything she did. As a family, we are extremely proud to see this prize celebrate progress in radiography, as Laura was so dedicated to her work and her studies. Congratulations to Paula.”

Michael Cox, Laura’s supervisor at Poole, said he could “not be prouder” to hear of the new award: “Laura truly represented the Apprentice role; passionate about the radiography profession, desire for optimum care, humbleness in her learning approach, and selflessness within the teams she worked in.”

The prize was awarded at the University of Exeter Medical Science and Health Awards evening, held last night at St Mellion Golf Club, Cornwall. Paula received a certificate and £25.

The award was presented in Degree Apprenticeships Week, celebrating programmes which provide opportunities to work and earn whilst getting a degree-level qualification as well as the apprenticeship qualification at no cost to the apprentice. Alongside radiography, the University of Exeter currently delivers 13 other programmes to over 200 employers, collectively employing around 2000 apprentices.