Case study

Senior clinical scientist (biochemistry) — Dr Suzanne Armitage

Suzanne enjoys using the full breadth of her scientific training and knowledge at the heart of clinical practice. Discover how she provides vital services and ensures a high standard of patient care

How did you get become a healthcare scientist?

After graduating with BSc and PhD degrees in biochemistry from The University of Manchester, I trained as a forensic biologist and worked for the Forensic Science Service (now defunct) for ten years. I was made redundant in 2011 and successfully attained a place on the NHS Scientific Training Programme (STP).

I completed my three-year training in 2014, graduating from The University of Manchester with an MSc in Blood Sciences (Clinical Biochemistry) and achieving Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration, and now work as a senior clinical scientist at Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospital Trust.

What's a typical day like?

I work as part of a team of 12 clinical scientists working across two hospital sites. The team provides a core clinical biochemistry service both within the hospital trust and to primary care GP users. A typical day can include:

  • four hours spent working as a duty biochemist, clinically authorising patient results and contacting service users with abnormal results, which require urgent clinical action, as well as being the point of contact for telephone queries
  • dealing with issues arising in the laboratory, such as quality issue failures and incorrectly labelled samples, which require clinical scientist input
  • monitoring laboratory quality through participation in external quality schemes
  • performing laboratory and clinical audits
  • participating in research and development of new laboratory methods.

I'm also an active contributor to the out-of-hours clinical service provision at one of my base hospitals, which provides 24/7 cover to all service users.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I'm extremely fortunate to work with a great clinical scientist team in a very supportive environment.

I fully appreciate that my role is at the heart of patient care and I make a positive impact on patient management.

What are the challenges?

It's impossible to predict what each duty biochemist shift may bring with regards to technical issues, for example, unplanned analyser downtime, urgent enquiries to deal with, delayed sample receipt and impact on results obtained. It's important to be adaptable and prioritise appropriately, managing service user expectations while ensuring that there's minimal impact on patient result turnaround times.

How has your role developed?

The first few months were spent consolidating my training knowledge and gaining competency to work independently as a duty biochemist. This led to my joining the out-of-hours clinical service provision rota.

I'm currently working towards sitting my Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) Part 1 examination and hope to gain a principal clinical scientist role in the next few years.

What are your tips for others interested in this career?

Make sure you thoroughly research the job so that you know it's the right one for you. Contact your local hospital laboratory and arrange a visit to talk to staff about the career. While the core elements of the role will be the same in each hospital, the additional work performed will vary depending on the size and location of the hospital and any key clinical specialism it provides.

The recruitment process is extremely challenging and competitive. There are currently only a small number of STP roles advertised nationally each year, and in the future hospitals may also train clinical scientists through an in-service scheme - so find out what your local hospital's plans are.

Finally, be aware that the STP is not just a three-year training programme. It's also the stepping stone for further training under the Royal College of Pathologists on a career progression pathway to becoming a consultant clinical scientist.

Find out more