Case study

Microbiology biomedical scientist — Shona

Shona benefited from her university's strong links to hospital laboratories and found that gaining some work experience was an excellent grounding in securing a role as a biomedical scientist....

I studied biomedical science at Aston University, graduating in 2012. Currently, I work as a biomedical scientist in microbiology and I am in the process of completing the specialist portfolio of competency.

I work in the microbiology laboratory at Birmingham Children's Hospital, which is where I completed my initial Institute of Biomedical Science competency portfolio, a requirement for state registration as a biomedical scientist.

After I graduated, I applied and got the job as a medical laboratory assistant where I was doing my training. Soon after, a position for a recently qualified scientist came up, which I was successful in gaining.

Studying for a degree in biomedical science was very important in order to work as a registered biomedical scientist; in fact, it is a stipulation of qualifying professionally. The institute requires you to have grounding in all the disciplines of biomedical science at graduate level and to specialist in a discipline afterwards.

A typical day in a microbiology laboratory involves the morning reading of the inoculated sample plates. This is the interpretation of the growth of organisms from the samples and then making a decision on whether they are causing infection, i.e. they should not be there if no infection was present, or whether they are organisms that exist on/in the body naturally and are not causing infection.

Organisms that are then considered infectious are processed for identification and antibiotic sensitivity testing so the doctors know what they can treat the patient with. The rest of the day may involve the processing of the samples onto agar media for growth, preparation of samples for instrument analysis, answering phone queries about sample results, processing of external quality assurance samples and generally contributing to the day to day running of an NHS laboratory.

The most challenging part of my job and therefore what I find the most rewarding is the reading of the culture plates. During this stage it is my responsibility to interpret the growth on the plates and decide which organisms need further work in order to treat the infection. My decisions at this stage have a direct effect on the final result of the sample and therefore the management of the patients.

My degree gave me a base of knowledge to build on once I had gained a job in the area of biomedical science I wished to pursue. From the degree, you gain a basic understanding of all the disciplines in a lot of theoretical and some practical detail. This can be important for making a decision on which area you may want to work and specialise in. Due to Aston University's excellent links with the hospital laboratories in the area, I benefited from being able to work in a laboratory, train in the discipline I wanted to specialise in and gain extra knowledge in this area.

I think it is very important for students to secure placement years or to volunteer in laboratories for several reasons. You may be able to complete your portfolio of competency earlier, which would allow you to graduate with this qualification, meaning you can look for jobs as a biomedical scientist as soon as you have graduated.

There is also high competition for qualified and non-qualified roles, so having experience in a laboratory is becoming more and more important, not just to make you stand out against other applicants, but also because many laboratories expect this in order for you to apply for a job. It can also give you an idea as to whether or not you enjoying working in a field as specialised as biomedical science before you commit to a career.