Case study

Biomedical scientist (microbiology) — Cherie Beckett

Cherie studied for a degree in Biomedical Science at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. She now works as a biomedical scientist

How did you get your job?

I initially completed a degree in dance science. During the course I realised that I enjoyed learning about the body and its mechanics, particularly in health and disease. After graduation, I sought a laboratory position with the NHS Blood and Transplant service to develop this interest. However, within two years, due to consolidation of laboratories, I was threatened with redundancy.

I applied for a medical laboratory assistant post in a local NHS diagnostic microbiology laboratory. I was fortunate enough to be fully funded by my employer to study for a foundation degree in Healthcare Science at Anglia Ruskin University on a part-time, day-release basis, which started me on my journey to becoming a biomedical scientist. I was then required to 'top up' this degree with a further two years of study to generate sufficient credits to obtain a BSc in Biomedical Science, accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS).

I then had to complete a period of laboratory training as a trainee biomedical scientist and compile evidence for the IBMS State Registration Training Portfolio. After an official assessment of my training and portfolio evidence, I was awarded a Certificate of Competence from the IBMS and allowed to apply for registration as a biomedical scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). I am now working as a fully-qualified biomedical scientist in the same hospital that I completed my training in.

What's a typical day like as a biomedical scientist?

In microbiology we process a variety of different samples for the analysis of infection, including identifying the causative agent of food poisoning, a urinary tract infection or sepsis. Sample types include urine, faeces, hair, skin, nail, tissue, sputum, fluids, blood and swabs from different anatomical sites.

A morning consists of reviewing the agar plates for each particular sample within my allocated section for any microbial growth. I then use my training and agreed protocols, together with any clinical information supplied with regard to the nature of the patient's illness, to justify whether the growth (if present) is clinically relevant and if further work is required.

My afternoons are less structured. I may be required to provide support to the medical laboratory assistant team or spend time at the microscope reviewing a variety of different samples. I could also spend time at the computer reviewing laboratory documents, carrying out risk assessments, performing audits or compiling evidence for an upcoming inspection.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love that there are an infinite number of clinical scenarios, making every patient and sample different. Each needs to be treated individually and on a case-by-case basis.

More than 70% of decisions involving patient diagnosis or treatment are based on pathology investigations. I enjoy feeling that I am a part of patient care and that I can make a difference.

I also enjoy taking part in an out-of-hours on-call service. I can be called in to process an urgent sample and this provides great reward, knowing that I can play a part in assisting in the timely diagnosis of a very sick patient.

What are the challenges?

It can be unsettling to consider the potential consolidation of pathology services in the future. This means that there might not be as many pathology laboratories across the country, with larger 'hubs' formed. However, change is always inevitable and science is constantly evolving, so I am working hard to consider how I can use this situation to my advantage.

The specialism itself can be quite competitive and this too, can pose a challenge. I try to ensure that I keep up-to-date with continuing professional development and take on extra responsibility to be the best version of myself.

Lastly, there can be day-to-day challenges with an increasing workload and heavy demands on the NHS.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My BSc Biomedical Science (IBMS-accredited) is essential to the job.

In order to become a biomedical scientist, it's essential to have an IBMS-accredited or HCPC-approved degree and to have completed an IBMS State Registration Training Portfolio.

What are your career ambitions?

My career aspirations, particularly in academia are ambitious. I am currently undertaking a second portfolio with the IBMS, this time to specialise in microbiology. I am also considering studying for a Masters within my discipline and wouldn't rule out the possibility of a Doctorate in the future.

I am told I have a flair for virology and often work within our serology section of the laboratory, I hope to pursue this aspect of microbiology in the future.

How do I get into biomedical science?

Try to gain as much laboratory experience as possible. This might mean looking for a voluntary placement during the holidays or making use of a placement year at university. There is no substitute for experience and this will complement the theoretical knowledge gained at university, as well as providing an insight into the current working sector.

In a competitive sector, you need to network. This could mean writing letters to laboratories asking for a tour or connecting with professionals on social media. I pioneered #IBMSChat with the IBMS and this has been an excellent opportunity to network regardless of geography, years of experience, job title or specialism. #IBMSChat is an initiative whereby like-minded biomedical science enthusiasts meet once a month on Twitter to discuss a loosely set topic . These chats have been successful in building a network of individuals who can share ideas, advice, provide support and connect.

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