Find out how working as a clinical scientist has allowed James to combine his fascination for genetics - and how it impacts on disease - with his desire to help other people
How did you get your job?
I studied for a four-year undergraduate Masters course at the University of Birmingham in biological sciences (genetics). Following graduation, I moved to Cardiff to begin working within the All Wales Regional Genetics Laboratory as an associate practitioner. During this time I gained experience of applying genetic technologies to generate data for the analysis and diagnosis of patients.
I was then promoted to the position of genetic technologist. In this role I was able to perform sequence analysis and reporting of patients referred to the lab for a range of genetic diseases.
This experience gave me the confidence to apply for the Scientist Training Programme. Although entry is very competitive I managed to secure a place, and in 2016 began working as a trainee clinical scientist at the West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory in Birmingham.
What's a typical working day like?
As a trainee you're exposed to a huge number of different diseases and technologies, often having to change your mindset and approach depending on the team you're working in. For example, you could spend one week learning about the stratified medicine approach for lung cancer patients, and the next analysing a microarray trace for a patient referred with learning difficulties.
There are also lots of opportunities to take part in activities outside of your department, such as public engagement or teaching seminars at local universities.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The NHS provides outstanding quality of care. This is especially evident within genomics, where we're world leaders in providing the best possible diagnosis for our patients. For me, therefore, the best part of my job is being able to contribute towards this service.
It's incredibly humbling to know that work being done by the laboratory is having a direct impact on the treatment of patients, many of whom are desperate for a diagnosis.
What are the challenges?
The Scientist Training Programme (STP) is incredibly challenging, with a huge number of exams, essays and assessments - all of which need to be done whilst juggling your training and other commitments. Maintaining your dedication and motivation to the role on a daily basis, whilst also managing the requirements of the programme, can be particularly difficult. However, knowing that the work I'm doing is benefiting patient care is an incredible motivator.
How is your degree relevant?
I'm able to apply the knowledge and skills that I learnt during my degree on a daily basis. While at university I learnt the basic underpinning principles of a number of technologies that our lab uses, which makes applying those techniques in a clinical setting a much easier process.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
I've worked within the NHS for almost five years, and my role and responsibilities during that time have been incredibly varied, covering both technical and clinical aspects of a diagnostic laboratory.
Once I've gained registration as a clinical scientist, I'd like to continue to develop my skills and expand upon my qualifications and experience.
What's your advice to others interested in this job?
- Make sure that you're passionate about your specialism - if you're not genuinely excited to come into work every day, then the role will be so much more difficult.
- Start reading up on The NHS Constitution - this is a document which outlines all of the key values and behaviours that are expected of everyone working within the NHS. It provides an understanding of how seriously we take patient care.
- Come and visit us - as a department we take part in a huge number of public outreach activities, as well as giving careers talks at the local university and hosting open days.