Case study

Healthcare scientist — Liam Oates

Liam's work contributes directly to saving the lives of patients needing kidney or stem cell transplants. Discover more about his training and development

How did you get your job?

I studied for a BSc Healthcare Science (Blood Sciences) at Cardiff Metropolitan University, graduating in 2017, and am a registered biomedical scientist. I spent my placement time working in the clinical biochemistry and haematology labs at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW).

Following my placement at UHW, they were unable to offer me a permanent role. However, I applied for and was successful in getting an assistant practitioner role with the Welsh Blood Service, in the Welsh Transplantation and Immunogenetics Laboratory (WTAIL).

What's a typical working day like?

A typical working day could involve performing polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing of potential donors and recipients. I also perform testing for HLA types associated with particular autoimmune diseases and analyse and interpret the results of this testing to assign HLA types.

Alternatively, I could be performing routine or urgent antibody screening, aiming to detect and characterise HLA or human platelet antigen (HPA) antibodies in potential solid organ or platelet recipients.

I could also be performing direct histocompatibility testing between a solid organ donor and their recipient, donor-lymphocyte cross-matching. This enables me to ascertain whether the graft is likely to be rejected by the recipient based on their current antibody status.

My workplace is very supportive of my undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) so I am able to regularly attend various meetings and presentations we give for each other to enhance all our knowledge. This is particularly useful as I'm currently training to be a clinical scientist and these meetings and presentations enable me to develop my understanding significantly.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Seeing that the work I do directly contributes to patients receiving life-saving stem cell or kidney transplants.

I also enjoy performing the laboratory work and doing the analysis as it gives me a sense of seeing my own work through to completion.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is that HLA is such an incredibly vast and polymorphic system, with different nomenclature based on whether serological or DNA typing has been performed. The difficulty is trying to retain the various associations and linkage between various HLA alleles.

How is your degree relevant?

Though I had very little knowledge of HLA prior to beginning my role, my degree gave me a level of comfort and familiarity with working in a clinical laboratory environment that only experience can.

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

Within three months of starting at WTAIL I was promoted to the role of healthcare scientist. With that came an increased responsibility and role in testing and analysis of data.

I am now undertaking the postgraduate British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (BSHI) diploma, which will enable me to apply to the Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS) for clinical scientist registration upon completion.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Contact the person named on the job advert to arrange a visit to the laboratory as this is a good chance to get to know them.
  • If you're unable to get a job in a laboratory, try emailing senior members of staff within the lab asking about potential voluntary training experience as a way to gain familiarity with a clinical laboratory environment.
  • Maintain a general interest in science - lots of jobs are advertised in scientific literature.

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