Case study

Biomedical scientist — Kathryn Owen

After securing work as a microbiology lab assistant, Kathryn 'topped up' her BSc in Biology to start a career as a qualified biomedical scientist…..

How did you get your job?

I graduated from Newcastle University with unspecific ideas of what I wanted to do for my career. I knew I wanted to work in a laboratory but didn't have any idea what sort.

I managed to get a job as a medical laboratory assistant in microbiology at Sunderland Royal Hospital and worked there for five months gaining vital experience of working in a clinical laboratory. I then moved on to an associate practitioner post at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which is a more complex role than an MLA.

After 'topping up' my degree with IBMS accredited biomedical science modules, I was able to do my IBMS Registration Training portfolio at work, which assesses your knowledge and competence. Once you complete your portfolio and have been awarded an IBMS Certificate of Competence you can register with the HCPC and will be entitled to work as a biomedical scientist. This took around 18 months from start to assessment. Passing your portfolio enables you to register with the Health Professions Council, which is essential to work as a biomedical scientist in an NHS clinical laboratory.

A secondment opportunity arose in my department for a band 5 biomedical scientist and I was successful at interview.

There are many ways to progress up the career ladder

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Studying applied biology was a good start for me, as by the end I knew I wanted a career in biology or in a laboratory in some context. However, the degree was not an essential qualification for me to have in order to progress in an NHS laboratory. The entry requirements for an associate practitioner are a foundation degree or A-levels, which I already had. However my degree did mean that I had most of the core knowledge required, I just had to top it up with some IBSM-accredited biomedical science modules. I think it is important to know that there are many ways to progress up the biomedical science career ladder.

What are your main work activities?

Currently, I read culture plates to identify organisms causing chest infections, urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal infections, among others. A typical day in microbiology is a varied, busy one. I rotate around the different benches so one day I may be reading urine culture plates, and on another I may be reading sputa or faeces. I have also validated new methods and analysers for improving our service. Prioritising work is a must, as urgent work comes in at various intervals through the day.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My secondment is developing all of the time. I am constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge and skill set. Over five years, I have moved on from booking in samples and performing simple medical laboratory assistant (MLA) duties to being a trusted and responsible biomedical scientist, performing complex procedures and sending out test results to clinicians. My ambition is to complete my specialist portfolio to specialise in microbiology and obtain a permanent specialist biomedical scientist post.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety that microbiology offers. There are so many different sample types, so many different types of patients that we receive samples from, and it is still very 'hands on' in that there isn't a lot of automation, most tests are done by hand. It is a very busy and evolving environment, no day is ever exactly the same as the day before. I also value the fact that working in a clinical laboratory has an effect on patients and the care they receive. It is nice to feel like you have an important role and make a difference.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

My main bit of advice would be to get as much laboratory experience as possible, and be patient. If you are qualified but have to work as an assistant for a while, it's all experience and you will learn a lot. I worked my way up from the bottom and it's the best thing I ever did.

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