Tahmina shares her tips as a BMS Team Manager and Blood Sciences Training Officer at Christie Pathology Partnership, for securing IBMS placements and getting involved with the IBMS as a student.
I completed a degree in Applied Biomedical Science at Manchester Metropolitan University, which involved a 12-month sandwich year placement in my third year which was an amazing opportunity to complete my IBMS Registration Portfolio to gain the IBMS Certificate of Competence, and also opened up the pathway for me to secure a job. Since then, I have completed the IBMS Specialist Diploma in Haematology and Hospital Transfusion Practice, and a Master’s degree in Haematology and Transfusion Science. Completing these qualifications has enabled me to expand my skills, knowledge and experience and have contributed massively towards my professional development and career progression. I have also completed the IBMS Certificate of Expert Practice qualifications in Training and in Quality Management. My particular interest is within Training and Education and developing students, trainees and colleagues and help them to grow in confidence.
Advice on placements
Based on my experience, the uptake of placements is highly competitive, therefore it is extremely important to apply for a placement if the opportunity is available. Without this, I would not have been able to complete my training and become a HCPC-registered Biomedical Scientist. The benefits of undertaking a placement are huge, as you will gain experience working in a laboratory while developing your knowledge and skills, as well as significantly improving your opportunities for employability. If you are unable to secure a placement via university, try and contact local laboratories to ask whether there are any work experience opportunities, connect with your local IBMS Branch and search for vacancies advertised for medical laboratory assistants or assistant practitioners.
When you are searching for a placement or applying for a position as a Biomedical Scientist, you should include key points in your CV that stand out to the employer. Your CV should be about selling yourself and increasing your chances at being shortlisted for an interview. Include your qualifications, how many years’ experience you have, what skills you have developed and what training you have previously completed. Make sure you include your roles and responsibilities in a particular job and relate them to the position you are applying for. Employers will be looking for skills that relate to Biomedical Science so keep your CV clear and concise and make sure it flows well. If you have attended other courses such as mentorship or been involved in other extracurricular activities that add to your skills, make sure you include it in your CV. If you take part in or contribute to any conferences or events as a speaker or write articles, these are all valuable skills and experience to add.
If you have been shortlisted for an interview, make sure you prepare well. Remember to sell yourself with the qualities and skills that you have highlighted in your CV and relate it to how it would fit the job criteria. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and how these can be used to your advantage. Most importantly, employers will want to know why you want the job but also what benefits you will bring.
For Biomedical Scientist jobs, most employers will ask specific competency-based questions, so be prepared to answer using past experiences. Examples of questions can be talking about your biggest achievement and why you are proud of this or how you might have handled a difficult situation. You may also be asked questions that are very specific to the discipline. For example, you may be given a scenario where a sample has been processed and an abnormal result is detected, what might the cause of this be? What condition might it be related to and what would you do? By preparing well and researching the common tests performed in the laboratory you will have a better chance at answering the questions well.
Don’t forget, although you may not have worked in a laboratory before, you can still demonstrate your knowledge in the interview, this will indicate your eagerness to learn. Take your time to answer the questions and don’t be afraid to ask your own questions. Examples of questions might include shift patterns or opportunities for career progression. When the interview has ended, thank the interviewers for their time, ask when you are likely to hear back from them and ask if they are prepared to provide feedback at the end of the process.
Tahmina’s advice on getting involved with the IBMS
There are other ways of getting involved with the IBMS which will help you develop new skills. Biomedical Science Day (24th June 2021) is the IBMS annual celebration of biomedical science. This day celebrates our profession and the work we do. You can get involved by promoting Biomedical Science and raising awareness to the public of our role in healthcare.
Prior to COVID-19 many of us celebrated by hosting events and exhibitions so that patients and staff in the hospital were able to come and ask questions; we also gave a tour of the laboratories! However, since the global pandemic, we were not able to celebrate in the usual way. But that did not stop us! The social media platform has become increasingly popular for promoting our profession so there’s always an opportunity to get involved and take part in increasing awareness.
National Pathology Week (4th-9th November 2021) is also an annual celebration of pathology to highlight the important roles we play and the contributions we make to healthcare. Again, there’s lot of ways to get involved! Public engagement activities such as delivering careers talks to schools and universities are great opportunities to engage people of all ages.
The IBMS Chats also take place on Twitter on the first Wednesday of every month at 8-9pm. You can join in the chat and ask questions and network with other professionals. The IBMS Support Hub also deliver free online sessions on various topics such as completing CPD, portfolios and professional development.
The IBMS mentoring program has been launched recently and is available for any IBMS member who would like some support in gaining skills and knowledge for career development.
If you are looking to connect with the IBMS, there are plenty of resources available on their website which are useful for obtaining information on the different qualifications, CPD and networking with other members. For more information, visit https://www.ibms.org/home/
Danny Gaskin shares the story so far and gives his advice for current students and early career scientists.
In conversation with Dimtrios Bitas
Danny Gaskin is a 28-year-old University of Salford alumnus from Accrington and an HCPC registered Biomedical Scientist. He completed his BSc Biomedical Science degree in 2018 and is currently employed as a Patient Blood Management Practitioner by NHS Blood and Transplant. In this interview Danny shares his career path and useful advice to current Biomedical Science Students.
Could you describe your career path as a Biomedical Scientist? What were your steps after completing your degree?
Between the second and the third year of my degree, I applied and successfully completed a placement year in the Haematology department at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I graduated with a first-class honour’s degree and the IBMS Certificate of Competency, which meant that I could go straight into work as a Biomedical Scientist. My career path started up in the lake district at Furness General Hospital, however, I didn’t spend long there. An opportunity came up, and I moved down to the southwest and joined the haematology and transfusion team at Milton Keynes University Hospital. I absolutely loved my time there. I worked independently, got involved with all aspects of the quality management system, started my MSc degree, and overall, grew quickly as a scientist. Being an ambitious person, my time in Milton Keynes didn’t last long either. A new challenge to join the Pathology team at Spire Manchester Hospital came up. This was my first post as a Senior Biomedical Scientist, and I learned so much very quickly. I left Spire roughly a year later to join NHS Blood and Transplant. I’ve learned something from the positives and negatives of everywhere I have worked. I look for a learning opportunity in every experience and I believe that’s made me a better scientist and probably a better person.
I’ve learned something from the positives and negatives of everywhere I have worked. I look for a learning opportunity in every experience and I believe that’s made me a better scientist and probably a better person.
After having a look at your CV, someone can notice that you switched courses and went from studying Adult Nursing toBiomedical Science.What changed your mind?
Before my biomedical science days, I studied Adult Nursing. The original plan was to train as an A&E nurse, but this only lasted about 18 months. During my first placement as a student nurse at the Haematology Day Unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary, I became fascinated by blood cells. I took up independent study on the different blood cells and the mechanisms that influence their production, replication, and destruction. I soon realised that a career in biomedical science was more suited to my interests.
Can you tell us about your current job?
I am currently employed as a Patient Blood Management Practitioner by NHS Blood and Transplant. My job involves work on activities designed to support Patient Blood Management in hospitals across London. This includes provision of an on-going programme of support, education, audit, research, and specialist transfusion advice. One of the most important elements of my job is building relationships with other healthcare professionals involved in blood transfusion, to ensure a co-ordinated approach to improving transfusion laboratory and clinical practice locally, regionally, and nationally. It’s a job that I really enjoy and get huge satisfaction from. I work with the most talented team of scientists, nurses, administrators and doctors and we really make a positive difference every day.
It’s a job that I really enjoy and get huge satisfaction from. I work with the most talented team of scientists, nurses, administrators and doctors and we really make a positive difference every day.
What was your role as a Biomedical Scientist in Haematology and Blood Transfusion like?Can you describe a typical week at work?
On a Monday, you might observe the presence of immature cells on a patient’s peripheral blood smear that you’re concerned might be indicative of a serious problem with the bone marrow, so you get in touch with the haematologist to escalate it. On Tuesday, you might be responding to major haemorrhage bleep to provide replacement blood for a patient that has been involved in an accident and lost a lot of blood. Wednesday might see you have to get the tools out and replace one of the probes on your analyser. Thursday might be a quiet day until you get the call from theatres to say that there had been some complications during childbirth and now a new mother is in desperate need of blood components. Thankfully, Friday is rest day.
What advice would you give to current Biomedical Science students? What steps would you recommend them to take?
Besides the obvious advice of working hard and putting the hours in, I would advise them to get involved with the university societies and the IBMS. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can whilst you’re a student. Some voluntary opportunities might first appear to be a lot of hard work for very little return, but there are transferable skills you can pull from any experience. Networking has had such a positive influence on my career to date. I’d suggest attending events, meetings and discussion groups. Build a social media presence. Make professional contacts and friends. Have fun and enjoy the process. Don’t let these three or four years pass you by without having fun. I miss university so much.
Don’t let these three or four years pass you by without having fun. I miss university so much.
What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to succeed as a Biomedical Scientist?
Often when I see this question, I go on to read about how one must be bright, have attention to detail, be data driven etc. which are all true, but actually I think first a foremost you need to be compassionate. You need to be able to always keep at the forefront of your mind that every single sample belongs to a person with a family that loves them and that are probably worried about the results you’re about to produce and report. You need to remember that every single task you perform in the laboratory, whether it’s analytical or administrative, is essential to uphold the high quality necessary to provide the minimum level of care we should all be striving for. If you’ve got that, and a passion for biomedical science, everything else can be taught.
How can other people help or affect someone’s career? Were there any people who had a positive impact in your career development?
My career path has been enjoyable but very fast paced. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people in my career so far who have given me every opportunity to progress, and whether they have realised or not, they have helped me grow professionally and personally. Being surrounded by good people in a positive environment for learning is really important to me. I’ll be forever grateful to Dr Lucy Smyth and the University of Salford for the help and support required to switch and join the Biomedical science programme. At Furness General Hospital I met Stephen McDonald, Ola Yahaya, and Shehz Abdullah, three really talented scientists who supported me through the haematology and transfusion basics. Stephen, Ola, and I still work closely together on a few different projects and Shehz and I speak most days. All three became friends for life. At Milton Keynes University Hospital I met some of the most knowledgeable and humble biomedical scientists and I learned so much so quickly.
You often talk about the value of networking, particularly through social media and what significant role it has played in your own career. What would be your advice to a biomedical science student looking to start networking through Twitter for example?
There is a huge biomedical science community on Twitter. You can get involved with #IBMSChat and @WEBMScienitsts. Twitter is an immensely valuable tool for networking. I have met so many scientists on Twitter who have positively influenced my career in one way or another. Twitter and other social media platforms make the world so much more accessible. One thing I will say about Twitter is that it can sometimes feel like work from work. This is particularly true if you only follow biomedical science accounts and only engage with other scientists. Shutting off from work is important. Don’t be afraid to be yourself on Twitter too. I don’t believe that you should separate your personal and ‘science’ accounts. Not unless you want to, or your employer insists you should. I like that I can get to know the people behind the science, and I hope that people can get to know me too.
You can follow Danny on Twitter (@NHSDanny) for some useful blood transfusion content, real time football, and boxing punditry. Use the #AskinGaskin hashtag for any questions. Danny is approachable and would love to hear from students and early career scientists.
Dr Sara Namvar and Aimee Pinnington share their practical guide to Biomedicine Career planning for Salford Students
By Dr Sara Namvar and Aimee Pinnington
Whilst at university it is vital that you start planning your career as early as possible. The Biomedicine academic team have prepared some guidance for you! ‘How to start planning your career’ will support you in assessing where you are up to at this moment and also provide some immediate steps you can take. ‘Building a strong CV whilst at university’ is ideally suited to first and second year students who have lost of time to get career savvy!
How to start planning your career
Building a strong CV whilst at university
Your priority must always be to achieve the best possible grades. However, extracurricular activities help you build a vast range of additional skills that not only build your CV and make you more attractive to employers, but they also make you more confident and allow you to have fun! It can be difficult to select appropriate activities both (on and off campus) to suit your career of choice.
The table below is by no means exhaustive, but maps out recommended activities to support your career of choice. In addition to these, the library, SU and careers & enterprise team offer a huge range of development opportunities. You may wish to become a student rep, ambassador at open days or mentor, which will help with all careers. Ultimately there is no right or wrong and the important thing is to get involved! You must start drafting your CV from the first year and continue developing it throughout your time at university.
Dr Sara Namvar and Prof. Niroshini Nirmalan give an overview of careers as a medic, dentist or physician associate after studying biomedicine and detail the Graduate Entry Medicine Mentoring Scheme at Salford
By Dr Sara Namvar and Prof. Niroshini Nirmalan
Postgraduate students may access careers in Medicine or Dentistry either at undergraduate (more expensive) or graduate-entry (more competitive) level. Only postgraduate students may access Physician Associate studies.
Where it starts after graduating: Most students will start a 2-year Physician Associate Masters. Others may apply and secure a place on a 4- or 5-year Medicine or Dentistry course. Carefully considering finances and workload both during your undergraduate degree and beyond graduation is required.
Where you can end up: A Physician Associate, Doctor or Dentist. Your career can grow in any specialty you wish. You may also get involved with university teaching/research eventually.
Benefits of a career in this field: Working closely with patients and shaping healthcare. Being able to diagnose and treat your own patients.
Graduate Entry Medicine Mentoring at Salford (GEMMS) was established in 2015 by Prof Niroshini Nirmalan and a group of Biomedicine students with the objective of inspiring students to apply for careers in Medicine and Dentistry.
In 2019, the scheme was expanded to include post-graduate entry for Physician Associate studies with Dr Sara Namvar overseeing and co-leading GEMMS-PA. Each year as many as 30 students have taken part in elements of the mentoring scheme, with 4-5 students successfully transitioning onto Medicine or Dentistry. Many more successfully join Physician Associate courses. The mentoring for this working group is quite intense and involves close collaborative activity between staff and students with reliance upon the good will of our alumni.
Large scale events are regular and popular (e.g. Personal statement writing, mock interviews, external inspirational talks etc) attracting 100 students at a time and are usually held many times during the year. These are followed up with smaller bespoke events depending upon the needs of students at the time. Mentoring generally begins with career management support – helping students decide upon the extracurricular activities they need to engage with and providing references to hospitals for instance. There are regular personal statement workshops and personalised feedback on statements. Interview practice sessions are also a regular occurrence and often involve our valued alumni sharing their experiences. For students working towards Medicine or Dentistry, a working group of students has been established which holds regular UKCAT/GAMSAT study sessions to support preparation.
Dr David Greensmith explains research careers and details the Salford Biomedicine Research Careers Working Group and why student should join.
By Dr David Greensmith
Research careers are extremely varied, typically covering academic, industrial or clinical research but usually require the continuation of the academic pathway and strong interest in a specific area of biomedicine. These careers are competitive but are the literal advancement of science.
Where it starts after graduating: Most research-based careers start by securing a PhD position. You may need to undertake a Masters (preferably by research) first, but this is not an absolute prerequisite; it will depend on the level of research experience developed during your degree. For details see the recording mentioned later.
Where you can end up: There are many research-based careers in a huge range of disciplines. Broadly speaking, they fall into three areas: (1) Academic (undertaking research in a university setting), (2) clinical (for example working on clinical trials) and (3) industrial (product and process development).
Benefits of a career in this field: No two careers are the same and for most you will have a high degree of autonomy; you will heavily shape the exact course of the research you undertake and therefore your job. Successes mean a lot in research and can be incredibly rewarding. For example, you will publish your research and may become an internationally recognised expert in your field. You will likely travel the world to present at scientific conferences and in some cases pass on your knowledge to the next generation of undergraduate scientist.
Salford’s Research Careers Working Group (RCWG) seeks to facilitate undergraduate progression to research-based careers including Masters by research and PhD positions. I established the RCWG four years ago as a platform for students to engage with research and to mentor students through PhD applications. Since then, the scheme has developed, and we now have a dedicated Teams Site, student leads and a growing membership that forms a vibrant community of like-minded students.
The RCWG is suitable for all students at any level. As you progress through your degree, we’ll help you build a research-aligned CV through activities such as a regular journal club, dedicated seminars, discussion groups, learned society engagement, facilitated conference attendance, vacation scholarship and travel grant applications, research career events and scientific writing competitions. Then, when you are ready to apply for research-positions we will mentor you through the process.
On the 24th February, the RCWG hosted the inaugural “An introduction to research-based careers” symposium. Attended by around 40 students, I gave a brief overview of the PhD position then Dr Caroline Topham explained where a PhD can lead and considered the pros and cons of a research-based career. We were also joined by an international panel of scientists at various career stage who shared their experiences, advice and insight. The subsequent Q&A session was incredibly engaging. Don’t worry if you missed the symposium as it was recorded and can be accessed via the RCWG Teams site.
It’s also the first of many exciting events. Membership is free, and virtually all our activities are highly transferable; they will look good on any CV. As such, it’s well worth joining even if a research-based career is only one of many options on your radar.
Aimee Pinnington gives an overview of the benefits of a career as a Biomedical Scientist.
By Aimee Pinnington, Specialist Biomedical Scientist, and Caitlin Owen
Biomedical Scientists (BMSs) typically work in healthcare laboratory settings and carry out tests on patient samples that will usually contribute to or determine a patient diagnosis or evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. ‘Biomedical Scientist’ is a legally protected title which requires registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. To register, BMSs must obtain a Certificate of Competence from the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), which is achieved by the completion of a Healthcare Science or Biomedical Science degree accredited by the IBMS, and the IBMS Registration Training Portfolio, which typically takes around 12 months to complete. It can be completed at an IBMS-accredited training laboratory (most hospital laboratories) either during an integrated or sandwich year placement, or after graduating and obtaining work in one. The Portfolio is general, therefore provides qualification to start work as a BMS in any discipline, regardless of the discipline worked in whilst completing the portfolio – although laboratory experience relevant to the discipline you wish to work in is of course desirable. Disciplines in Biomedical Science include Blood Sciences, Cell Sciences, Genetics & Molecular Pathology or Infection Sciences. Disciplines available vary with hospital size and speciality. For more detail on disciplines, registration, and BMS careers, visit the IBMS website: http://www.ibms.org
Where it starts after graduating: Highly variable depending on opportunities available at the time and whether you graduate with IBMS Registration Portfolio or not. You may enter the lab at Biomedical Scientist (BMS), trainee BMS, Associate Practitioner (AP), or Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) level – more guidance on this is available on the Careers Hub and BMS Mentoring Teams site. You may also choose to work in the private sector rather than NHS labs, in which case progression routes can be different.
Where you can end up: Again, highly variable! You can progress through the lab ranks, going from newly qualified BMS to Specialist and then Senior BMS. Some choose to move into lab management, some into teaching like myself, some into consultancy work etc. There are lots of details available on the Careers Hub and BMS Mentoring Teams site about alternative career routes and emerging roles, for example Patient Blood Management.
Benefits of a career in this field: Direct impact on patient care, a constantly evolving field, working with a variety of cases which helps make everyday interesting.
Launched in January 2020, the Biomedical Scientist (BMS) Mentoring Scheme Teams site has proven very popular, with over 80 students joining already. The aim of the site is to provide tailored support for those looking to pursue a career as a BMS after graduation, offering:
Job application support, including CV/cover letter feedback and mock interview support
Guidance on HCPC and IBMS
Q&A sessions on careers as a BMS
Meetings with BMS staff from across the country to explore different career options
Access to external IBMS events (for those with e-student membership)
A support hub to chat with your peers about careers as a BMS
You can join the Teams site via BB or by email. Take a look at the resources and recordings available and get involved today to help achieve your career goals.
Dr David Greensmith gives an update on the Salford University Biomedicine Careers Hub
By Dr David Greensmith
The “Biomedicine Careers Hub” I wrote of in the previous issue continues to grow from strength to strength. The hub (which can be accessed via the “communities” area of Blackboard) is now heavily populated with career-related resources. You will see several activity spaces, each associated with a particular high-level career area:
Biomedical scientist and pathology lab
Research-based careers and progression to PhD / Master by Research
Graduate entry medicine, dentistry and physician’s associate
Biotechnology and industry
Microbiology and public health
Scientific communication, writing and outreach
Each space is managed by a member of staff who is an expert in the field and are packed full of useful and career-specific resources. Remember, each space represents a considerable breadth of distinct pathways and the list certainly isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, if you feel a certain career group isn’t represented, let us know. On the hub, you will also find general activity spaces which contain career-spanning resources such career events, placements and CV enhancing opportunities.
Remember, you can use the hub in two ways: (1) to research career options and (2) to make yourself more employable by engaging with the many extra-curricular activities that feature on the site. It’s a highly dynamic resource and will constantly grow and develop with new content so do access it on a regular basis to see what’s new.
The leads of certain career groups have established parallel MS Teams sites for further career-specific mentoring and support. To gain access to any of these Teams sites, go to the Careers Hub or simply contact the associated academic lead. These academics have given an overview of each career and its career hub in other articles.
Aspiring medical professional, Patricia Medeiros, outlines this emerging role and interviews qualified physician associate, Thomas Smyth.
BY PATRICIA MEDEIROS
Dr Eugene Stead (the US chairman of the Department of Medicine) founded the physician associate (PA) profession in 1965. There was a prominent shortage of physicians and other medical providers, resulting in a higher demand for healthcare professionals1. As a response to this, Dr Stead initiated the PA course; a 2-year medical masters with a fast-paced curriculum, similar to the 3-year medical curriculum used to train doctors in World War II2. However, due to the knowledge required, potential candidates could only matriculate if they had previous health-related training. Following the graduation of the first PA cohort, other US universities incorporated the PA course in their medical schools. Numerous countries around the world have since developed their own versions of the course, including the UK.
The UK formally introduced the PA profession in 2003. The Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) defines PAs as medically qualified professionals with a generalist healthcare background3. PAs are an emerging role in the NHS and an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. They are dependent practitioners, working in liaison with medical supervisors, these commonly being consultants and surgeons. However, with the appropriate training, PAs can work autonomously.
During the course, PA students attend a series of clinical placements in primary care (GPs) and secondary care (hospitals). These placements include a variety of medical specialties, such as, paediatrics, GP, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, mental health and more. After qualifying, PAs can choose to reside in a single area of medicine, but they also have the option to move between specialties. As part of the multidisciplinary team, PAs have become increasingly prevalent within the world of medicine and more widely recognised in the healthcare sector. PAs are not doctors; the PA role was designed to develop generalist clinicians as opposed to a specialised healthcare professional. For example, Drs commonly train to become ‘specialists’ in one area of medicine and PAs train to become ‘generalists’ in many areas of medicine. PAs have obtained a previous health-related degree, whereby certain areas of that degree incorporate key components of medicine. Therefore, providing them with a subsequent generalist medical education, develops competent individuals with the ability to work in varying areas.
There are, approximately, 30 universities in the UK offering the physician associate course. To become a qualified PA, applicants are firstly required to achieve a 1st class (or a 2.1 honours) in a 3 to 4 year undergraduate degree. This degree has to be in a science or health-related subject. Examples of these include, biomedicine, pharmacology and medical sciences. Following this, an additional 2 years of the PA masters (MSc) or the postgraduate diploma (PGdip) is required (or alternatively, a 4 to 5 year MPAS). PAs are also required to complete a series of university exams, a national exam, assessments, OSCEs, and more in order to qualify4. After qualifying, PAs are then further trained in a specialty of their choosing, with many completing internship years or, alternatively, rotational posts. As with many other medical professionals, PAs must also sit a recertification exam every 6 years. This exam encompasses all areas of medicine, regardless of the area the PA is currently working in. This ensures that all PAs maintain a general knowledge of medicine for patient care and safety.
As physician associates study postgraduate level medicine, once they qualify, they are able to: diagnose and treat their own patients; formulate management plans; perform surgical procedures; run clinics; take medical histories; carry out physical examinations and more. Currently, PAs in the UK do not; sign off prescriptions, request ionising radiation or have licenses to work in certain countries. However, PAs in other countries, such as the US, do not have these limitations. This is mainly because the PA role in the UK is newly established and currently not regulated. However, in 2022, the General Medical Council (GMC) will become the official new statutory regulator for PAs. This means that the current limitations are being re-evaluated with plans for prescribing rights, licenses to work abroad and a clear progression pathway for the role5.
AN INSIGHT INTO THE PA PROFESSION: PA THOMAS SMYTH IN CONVERSATION WITH PATRICIA MEDEIROS
With guest editing by Afnan Housein and Nabiha Ahmed
WHAT DID YOU DO YOUR DEGREE IN?
“I did my undergraduate degree in sports rehabilitation at the University of Salford and graduated in 2015. Then, I completed the PA course at the University of Manchester and I did the PGdip, not the MSc, so I didn’t need to do an additional thesis at the end of the course.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY WORK EXPERIENCE BEFORE APPLYING?
“I was in the very first cohort, in the northwest, back in 2016. As the course was quite new, I didn’t know what experiences were applicable, so I tried to make everything as relevant to healthcare as possible. Luckily, with my sports rehabilitation degree, I already had placements in the NHS setting, like working with orthopaedic surgeons in hospital. Unfortunately, a lot of students now won’t have as much experience due to COVID-19, so universities are being slightly more lenient. We do have a mentor scheme at Salford Royal called the PA Academy and there’s also the North West PA Forum so people can get in touch for an insight into the role. We understand that students are doing their best under the current circumstances.”
WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE ON WRITING A STRONG PERSONAL STATEMENT?
“A useful tip that I was told, was using a ‘SEE’ approach, which is a ‘skill’, then an ‘experience’ relating to that skill, then an ‘elaboration’ on that and how it applies to everyday needs. Also, always link experiences to healthcare, even if they are not directly in a healthcare setting. Try not to waffle – whoever is reading your personal statement is trying to gain an understanding of your knowledge and experiences from a short-written piece.”
WHAT WAS YOUR INTERVIEW LIKE AND WHAT ARE INTERVIEW PANELS LOOKING FOR WHEN SELECTING A PA?
“I actually interview applicants at Manchester and the process now is different from when I applied. Back then, we had to go to Hayfield Racecourse because I think there were 500 of us and only 140 places, spread between 3 universities. We had MMI (multiple mini interview) stations and if you got through, then you got a place at one of the 3 universities based on what you scored. It was very intense, but I think interviewers are looking for students that can understand and distinguish the PA role from other allied professions. It is also good to be knowledgeable on the NHS and its core values, data protection and more.”
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THE PA ROLE, AND DID YOU EVER CONSIDER MEDICINE?
“Yes, I always wanted to study medicine and I did a lot of research into it and found the PA course which, honestly, really resonated with me. I did a sports rehabilitation degree, so I already knew a lot about the human body and how it functions, but I wanted to know more. I think that a key factor in studying medicine to be a Dr. and studying medicine to be a PA, is that the course itself is 2 years, but it’s a postgraduate masters, so you need knowledge from another 3-4 year degree. After that, you can then still go into any specialty whilst maintaining a generalist approach. So because we are generalists, we can transition between specialties, without restarting our training, so I really liked that flexibility.”
WHAT SPECIALTY ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING IN AND WHAT WAS YOUR MOST INTERESTING CASE ?
“The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree; I went back and did trauma and orthopaedics and I just fell in love with the role at Salford Royal hospital, especially the surgical element to it. So, I think the most interesting case I’ve had was a bone transportation surgery. Unfortunately, a patient had a high trauma road-traffic accident and a large portion of the bone in their leg was missing. We have a phenomenal team of specialist surgeons called the limb recon team. So, we did a bone transportation where we physically cut a segment of the bone and transported it millimetre by millimetre each day, and you could actually see the bone regrowing, it was amazing.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF BEING A PA AND ONE THING THAT YOU WOULD POTENTIALLY IMPROVE?
“For me personally, it would have to be the flexibility and the work-life balance. I’m in many different places throughout the week. I’m a PA ambassador and a guest lecturer too. I’m also in theatre for surgery a lot and I run my own clinics, so I enjoy that. But I think if I was to improve anything, it would be the recognition of PAs. There are a few misconceptions about the role and it’s undervalued at the moment because it’s quite new in the UK and people don’t always know what we can do.”
WHAT DO OTHER HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS THINK OF YOUR ROLE AS A PA?
“When I first started, they weren’t quite sure on what the role was, so I was often having to explain. I was also trying to fit in this huge, already well-established, medical team. But as soon as I got past that, there was a huge gap to be filled. Me and the other PAs don’t really rotate around; we’re there to offer patient continuity so we know the system. Since we’ve been there for 3 years, we’re able to teach the junior doctors that come in and get them into the system very quickly. We can free up the ward time for the juniors, so that they can go into theatre and into clinics and get all these extra experiences, so actually, we do work very well together.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE GMC REGULATION MEANS FOR PAs?
“GMC doesn’t really change my role, but it would make it slightly easier. I work in a profession where I need both ionising imaging and to prescribe, but the doctors are there for support and vice versa. But equally, I am a bit sceptical because with the GMC regulation, PAs may become more prevalent on the wards without much support from the doctors. But overall, I think it’s a great thing because PAs can expand their scope of practice.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS?
“Personally, I had a great experience, so choosing to be a PA was a success story in itself, I definitely recommend it. I would say though, students need a clear distinction as to which medical model they want to study, whether that’s a PA medical model or a Dr. medical model. Any aspiring PAs are welcome to look at our mentor scheme or contact me on social media with any other questions!”
Find Thomas on Instagram: @ThomasthePA To find out more about the mentor scheme, visit thepaacademy.co.uk
Students at the University of Salford can join the Graduate Entry Medicine, Dentistry and Physician Associate Mentoring Scheme for guidance and mentoring with PA applications. For more information on this, please contact S.Namvar@salford.ac.uk.
1. Longmire D. The Use of Physician Assistants for Health and Wellness in Aging Population.; 2020. Accessed February 18, 2021. https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/uresposters/325/ 2. Brady MI. A Survey Assessing Patient Satisfaction with Physician Assistant Care at the Maple Street Clinic.; 2004. Accessed February 18, 2021. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/48843937.pdf 3. Reynard K, Brown R. A clinical analysis of the emergency medicine workforce crisis. Br J Hosp Med. 2014;75(11):612-616. doi:10.12968/hmed.2014.75.11.612 4. Murphy DC, Harvey A. Jeannine Watkins is a physician associate. BMJ. 2020;371:m3858. doi:10.1136/bmj.m3858 5. Ghadiri SJ. Physician associates: an asset for physician training and a 21st-century NHS? Futur Healthc J. 2020;7(3):e9-e10. doi:10.7861/fhj.teale-7-3
SARA: “I’m a lecturer in biomedical sciences, but I didn’t do a degree in that. I teach cell biology, physiology and anatomy. I come from a research focused background, only coming into teaching two years ago. “In college, I always wanted to do medicine. All my family went to university, but not to study medicine. I didn’t go to private school, and I’ve always lived in an inner-city area, so there wasn’t that mentor to support medicine applications. “I didn’t get into medicine, but neuro-science had caught my attention as a plan B. I got on to that. It was really hard core; I struggled and failed MANY modules! I re-sat the vast majority of my exams in first and second year. I think I had a lot of anxiety at the time but didn’t realise it, so my sleep was all over the place. “In the third year, I think I had more of a support network. I really improved and managed to pass my degree in the end with a 2:1 – that was a very steep trajectory! “There was a lot more funding knocking about those days, so I ended up doing my final year project in a lab at the University of Manchester and then asked, ‘Can I do a PhD?’ It turned out there was one available. It was with AstraZeneca as well. So, then I had a four-year funded studentship with significant industry contribution and extended placement. I had an excellent PhD supervisor who was so understanding – I was inexperienced, but the PhD made me. I spent a significant amount of time at AstraZeneca, and it was very regimented. They would pick me up if I made a mistake. I had to face a lot of red tape and telling off in the first year, but I think it helped me develop resilience – accepting all the tough feedback, crying about it if you need to, but then acting on it.
I didn’t have a career plan… I just decided to focus on what I was enjoying.
“I enjoyed every moment of my PhD. After that, I just knew I wanted to be a postdoc. “A postdoc is somebody who is very heavily involved in a research project. You’re not a lecturer, you have some very small bits of teaching, but the major responsibility is research. You work on set big projects, spend a lot of time in the lab, and you’re busy writing papers. It’s like a continuation of the PhD student role, but with more responsibility. I did, about seven or eight years of post-doctoral research at the University of Manchester. “I considered a couple of times leaving academia because I can see there is this bottleneck in going from your degree to PhD, to actually securing a permanent post. It’s an extremely slim chance of making that transition, and to be in a heavy research institution. I looked at a lot of other places to work. But finally, a job came up here at Salford. It went well, and I was offered the job that evening. “I didn’t have a career plan after I didn’t get into medicine. I just decided to focus on what I was enjoying.”
Describe your journey from college student to now
AIMEE: “I thought I wanted to do medicine, applied, got in everywhere. I was the first from both of my parents’ families to go to university, went to quite a rough, inner-city school, so no sort of support, like Sara talked about. But, because my parents both worked in a hospital, it was very easy for me to get work experience. I got placements everywhere. The GP even lived next door! “But then the more work experience I did, the more I realised I hated it. My dad came home to me crying in the kitchen trying to get stuff ready for university. He said, ‘Aimee, you don’t you don’t have to go’. “I said to him, ‘I think I want to be a scientist; I don’t think I want to be a doctor’. I like all the theory, and I want to help people. But every time I came off a ward I was in tears, and all I could see trying to get sleep at night was whichever patients were treated that day, and death. “We spoke to the head of course for Keele University and she said told me to come to her on clearing day. That’s what I did, and I got in, at a university only about 30 minutes away from home, to do biomedical science. “It was one of the best three years of my life, I loved it from start to finish. I did a placement in my second year, but it wasn’t a year out like at Salford: I worked through Easter and summer break. Then I graduated with a 1:1. With an IBMS certificate of competence already, I worked as a BMS immediately – but I was in the wrong speciality. I worked in anti-coagulation, a subset of haematology. It’s patient facing – a lot of community clinics. Patients can think you’re a doctor or nurse. If you’re a man doing clinics, they think you’re a doctor, as a woman, they thought I was a nurse. I wanted people to know I was a scientist, and that there are other health-care professionals involved in treatment. “So I waited for jobs to come up in haematology and transfusion, where I really wanted to work… 6 months later, I got a BMS post there. I’ve been there since! “I’ve done the specialist portfolio, and I did a masters in 2018. I did get on to do a funded master’s straight after my under-graduate degree, which would have been great. But when I got what I considered my dream job at Stoke, they said, ‘We can’t give you the time off to go and do this master’s, so you choose: do the masters, or work with us.’ So, I gave up the masters and went to work with them instead.
The more I did, the more I realised I hated it.
“Later I did my masters at Chester University – I wouldn’t recommend this – full time while I was full time on shifts. I did it in a year and it was a bit intense, but it was great. That is what ended up getting me into this job at Salford, because I was asked to go back and do some guest lecturing, and I really enjoyed it. Something I always enjoyed in the lab was training people and doing one-to-one sessions. I came home from a guest lecture at Chester and told my boyfriend, ‘That was great. I wish I could do more of that.’ He suggested looking online for jobs, and it was the closing date for one at Salford. I can be impulsive, but it works sometimes. “A week later I came for the interview. I sweated my way through most of it I was so nervous. I assumed I haven’t got it, because I heard nothing for two weeks. In the interview, they mentioned how I was younger and less experienced than other candidates and didn’t live in Manchester. “But when Lucy Smyth rang me and said, ‘Do want to work with us?’ That was that! “Yeah, I felt quite daunted coming to work at the uni. I shouldn’t have done, because it isn’t that kind of environment. But one thing I think is funny is that in the online classrooms everyone is Dr. something, and I am just Aimee Pinnington, because I don’t have a PhD, and some students pick up on it. But I think my advice to students would be to not feel limited by not perceiving yourself to be on the same level as others.”
HAVE YOU EVER FELT PRESSURED BY SOCIETY INTO CERTAIN JOBS EVEN IF IT WASN’T NECESSARILY WHAT YOU WANTED – BECAUSE THERE’S SPECIFIC JOBS THAT ARE SEEN AS EXTREMELY DESIRABLE ?
AP: “I don’t think anyone put pressure on me apart from myself, but I think that comes from that societal pressure that you’re talking about. Nobody had gone to university and in school I was straight A-stars – without trying. I was just lucky. When I went to college, that changed. I had to try really hard, and then I tried really hard with my degree. My grandparents are from what would could be considered a lower-class background, and they were so ecstatic. I honestly thought, ‘Oh, my God they’ll be so let down if I don’t do this’. “When we had to apply for work experience in year 10, my teachers said I had to do the medicine ones. They were trying to encourage me, but I wanted somebody to say, ‘What do you want?”
I don’t really run a classical career course. But it’s right for me.
“I did go through quite a classic route until I finished my degree. I was 20. When I got my first BMS job, being one of the babies of the year, I haven’t even hit 21. Yet I was in what was perceived to be an extreme job, and I did really enjoy it. But then I started splintering off, doing my master’s later, and now I do this job split. I don’t really run a classical career course. But it’s right for me. “I want to stay working as a scientist. And once you get to the lab management level – you rarely have on a lab coat. Their roles must be really challenging in other ways, but I want to stay working as a scientist. “But I also love the teaching. I taught all through university as a ballroom and Latin dance teacher. I tried to stay doing that, did four nights a week teaching dance while at university, and I just missed it. “When I was younger, I used to quite regularly be full force, and then I’d have a week, where I literally couldn’t get out of bed, and then I wouldn’t learn from it. Now that I’m older I’m more self-aware and I avoid the burnout better now.
WHAT SORT OF SHIFTS WERE YOU WORKING BEFORE AIMEE, WHEN YOU WERE PURELY BMS?
AP: “I used to work a 6am-2pm, 9am-5.30pm, 12pm-8pm, 6pm-6am, or 6am-6pm at the weekends. Every day in the week would be different, you could go from a night shift back to an early shift to back to a night shift. It was very random; you didn’t do like a block of a week of each. And then in the mix of that you had on-call work as well. So, if I finished a core day, which was 09.00-17.30, I’d come home with a bleep, and I could be phoned any time until six o’clock the next morning to go back in.
is it important, then, to take into consideration not just what you enjoy but also the actual working life, the tasks, the hours you’ll work?
AP: “Yeah, definitely. Even when I was there on nights, I still enjoyed my work. And actually, in a way, I enjoyed that more because you work a lot more independently, you run the entire section on your own, so you know where everything is. You don’t have to rely on anyone else.
SN: “As a comparison, and in terms of my life as a PhD student, it was very much 09.00-17.00 and then some bedtime reading. So, I’d have a research article – I loved, I still love, reading – so I would gladly read a handful of research articles, through the course of the week as my bedtime reading and at weekends. Then as a as a postdoc, I’d say that that pattern has continued in all my postdoctoral years. And there’s travel involved. It’s great going to conferences and that sort of thing. “Now, as an academic, it’s highly variable, you’ll have a week where it’s nine to five, and that’s good enough, and you’ll have other times where you’re working 12 hours a day, and also getting up Sunday morning to do stuff. It comes in massive peaks, and then you have periods where it’s actually calm, and it’s a nine to five, normal job, and it’s okay.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB ?
AP: “I enjoy most having a direct impact on patients. That leukaemia that I found yesterday – there’s about an hour, where I will be the only person who knows that that patient has leukaemia, and that’s a really privileged position. How I deal that will directly affect the patient’s chances. If I get that wrong, and they start them on treatment wrong for the patient, then that can be catastrophic, and now that I’m teaching at Salford, I know a lot of the students who I interact with will go away and do the same thing. I think that’s a position of privilege and that’s the bit that I love the most.”
SN: “I enjoy different things at different times. Obviously, there’s all the Biomed Soc and GEMMS stuff, I massively enjoy all of that, because you can see the students are enjoying it. I intermittently enjoy research. Nothing can compare to when you get a positive result in the lab, a paper accepted or even a grant! But success in research is infrequent. Grants and papers get rejected and experiments fail.
That’s an interesting insight. It sounds a bit like, with research, that the highs are high, but partly because the lows are low.
SN: “That’s what it is. When you’re a PhD student, and you’re a postdoc, it’s such a laugh in the lab, because there’s loads of students, the radio is on and you’re just having a real good time and following protocols that you’re good at. Especially because you become quite technically excellent, and all PhDs and postdocs do, but when you become an independent academic, you become quite detached from that first-hand lab experience. You pop your head in and you talk to research students, if you’re lucky you train them. And so yeah, you kind of end up losing that kick when you become a lecturer. You don’t really get that very often.
Seems like you touched on what you would wish to be different there. Aimee, is there anything you would like to change?
AP: “Being self-aware to the point where you do not feel like it’s a bad thing to say, actually, what I really need is to have a break. I really need to just take this weekend off. I think that comes with a bit more awareness. Maybe as you get older, I’m not sure I would have had the capacity to do that at university. “It’s really interesting. As a teacher, I think a lot of the students are really amazing and do things that I definitely couldn’t have done at their age or experience level. Which is strange because like I said, I’m 26, I’m not that much older than the students. But wow, there must have been a big change since I left University in my own development, to spot those things. “Sometimes, with external pressures, all the pressure we put on ourselves, we don’t listen. I think all of us should do more to listen to ourselves. You know what’s right for yourself, don’t you?”
Nothing can compare to when you get a positive result in the lab… but success in research is infrequent.
AP: “I feel more optimistic, to be honest, having done this interview. Doing things like this, it does make you think that ‘this is why we do it’.
Initially, career planning can make you feel daunted, but just as building the foundation is crucial for constructing a building, taking the essential correct steps at university plays an incredibly significant role in your journey to a career. Prathyusha Viswanathan and Anna-Marie Grayson detail the steps you can take to prepare during your degree.
By Prathyusha Viswanathan and Anna-Marie Grayson
The achievement of completing a university degree is especially felt when you secure a good job. Even a small opportunity, especially as an undergraduate, can be considered valuable, as work experience will boost your career. Initially, career planning can make you feel daunted, but just as building the foundation is crucial for constructing a building, taking the essential correct steps at university plays an incredibly significant role in your journey to a career. You will be able to feel yourself developing and progressing with each of these steps you take. To start, our university’s experienced Careers and Enterprise Leader, Anna-Marie Grayson, has detailed some of the important steps students should aim to take at each level of their study. Question? Email SEE-Placements-Industry@salford.ac.uk
Learn to develop a good rapport with your tutors or lecturers, their wide career network can help and guide you well.
Join societies related to your field – this will allow you to interact with other students and volunteering here will develop teamwork and leadership skills.
Draft a substantive CV and cover letter which can be updated when required.
Consider joining a placement to gain work experience – apply with placement providers who would be essential to your programme of study and research the placement providers you are applying for.
Make sure to attend the career fairs and workshops conducted on campus.
Create and update your LinkedIn profile.
Ensure you have a planner for the year.
Focus on applying for graduate/postgraduate schemes applicable to your course and make sure you note deadlines.
Update your CV.
Apply for Postgraduate or PhD courses in good time, if you don’t wish to bring an interruption to your studies.
Ensure you rebalancing your University workload with applications.
“Apart from these useful tips, I must definitely stress that our university not only conducts career fairs and workshops on campus, but also provides students with exceptional support and guidance in approaching their career goals. A CV is the tool to start your career search, a document which must be perfectly presented to employers. Our careers and employability team ensures students have an impressive CV if you consult with them. Students can also book mock interviews with our career team experts via the platform Advantage, to help prepare them to exhibit a confident, professional attitude and overcome fear to ace any interview.
“It is highly advisable students take the utmost advantage of such accessible support services set up for them. Remaining focused and vigilant always whilst pursuing your goals counts the most! I hope all of you ensure to adopt the right steps in your career search and wish you all the best to attain success in your desired career!”
– Anna-Marie Grayson; School of Science, Environment and Engineering Careers and Enterprise Leader at the University of Salford
Where can I start looking for graduate opportunities?
Use these resources to find opportunities for work experience or work after you graduate. You may also find it useful to contact relevant people in your network and keep an eye on LinkedIn and social media for any, such as for job adverts. Don’t be afraid to get in contact with opportunity providers like hospitals about how they specifically advertise opportunities and what they might have available.
Official job board of the Institute of Biomedical Science and exceptionally certified platform providing opportunities for all biomedical science disciplines as well as veterinary science and research. Featured recruiters include Spire Healthcare, NHS, Pure Healthcare Group