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Outside the Lab Training and education, Profession

Advocate for the Next Generation

Did you always want to be a biomedical scientist?

I always wanted to work in medicine, but I didn’t want to go to medical school. Though I was a high achiever at school, science was my worst subject; I was terrible at physics, but I loved biology, math, and art. I chose to pursue biomedical science at university because I met a histology lecturer at the University of Portsmouth Open Day who showed me how I could combine science and art. After university, I was offered the first trainee biomedical scientist job I applied for in Southampton, which happened to be in histology. Almost 25 years later, I have gone from trainee to consultant – all within the same department!

Tell us about the Scientists Training Program (STP) – how did you come to work on it?

The STP was developed as a result of “Modernizing Scientific Careers” – a program aimed at connecting all the different healthcare science training programs in England and applying them to a single quality-assured framework that includes specialty and rotational workplace training, a Master’s degree program, and leadership development. The three-year program is nationally funded and supports scientists who train while being paid to work. The curricula cover a variety of subjects, including histopathology, audiology, and imaging, but they all have the same overarching framework.

Like many people, the pandemic prompted me to reflect on what is most important to me professionally, my values, and what I want to achieve in the next stage of my career. I have faced many challenges, and my success has been a combination of hard work, determination, taking opportunities when they arise, and being lifted by the people who have inspired me to reach my goals.

In my work, I look after the training and development of many scientists and support staff and, though I have always valued this, I have come to realize just how important it is to me. I mostly support people working in pathology, but I have also been the lead healthcare scientist at my organization, which has given me the opportunity to meet and support the wider healthcare science workforce. I have also been working with colleagues from the National School of Healthcare Science who manage the STP – they have a supportive and collaborative working environment so, when a formal post came up in early 2021, I couldn’t resist applying.

What are your future goals for the STP?

We have spent the past year rewriting and relaunching the histopathology STP curriculum, so I hope to see more departments taking up this program. A greater number of training places across the country will lead to more scientists graduating from the program and eventually leading our histopathology services. I also want to promote healthcare science careers before students reach university so they know it is an option and that it isn’t only doctors and nurses who work in hospitals.

I’d also like to improve the accessibility of opportunities to ensure that everybody has a chance to develop a career in healthcare science to the highest level, regardless of factors such as social status, educational background, race, gender, or neurodiversity. We still have a lot of work to do to become better allies – the commitment to addressing equality, diversity, and inclusivity issues was one of the factors that made me want to work for the National School and for Health Education England.

What excites you most about the incoming generation of scientists-in-training?

The next generation of scientists will have so many more opportunities than I did at the same stage of my career! With the need for service and workforce transformation and a better awareness of healthcare science, we are now in a great position to offer and promote a wide variety of opportunities for people to get into the profession after school or college – and for them to progress into the most senior levels of expertise and leadership. I’m excited to be part of the team working at a regional and national level to ensure the voice of healthcare science is heard, that we develop and commission programs to support workforce transformation and service development, and that we provide opportunities and break down barriers for all healthcare scientists, no matter what specialty they choose.

Have you had any key mentors in your career?

There have been several people who have shaped my career, though I may not have realized it at the time. The thread that links them all together is their assurance to me that I was good enough and their support for me to dream bigger. They inspired me to challenge myself and not take no for an answer from those who made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. During challenging times, my mentors have been allies – standing shoulder to shoulder with me as I challenge the traditional way things are done.

In the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to gain a mentor who has had an incredible impact on my career. She encourages me to challenge my own assumptions – guiding and supporting me to work things out for myself, rather than telling me what I should do. This relationship has inspired me to support others in the same way; I hope I can have as positive an impact on other people’s careers as she has had on mine.

If you could change one thing about biomedical science, what would it be?

I would change the challenges experienced when applying to enter the profession. It’s now far more difficult to become a biomedical scientist than when I trained because of changes within the National Health Service (NHS). Many training labs are unable to protect the dedicated number of supernumerary training positions required for a sustainable workforce pipeline, which has left undergraduates unable to acquire placements to gain work-based competencies. Graduates with non-accredited degrees have to undertake further study or cannot get a job in NHS labs because of the few trainee positions being advertised. I can’t think of another profession that encourages people to study the subject, then cannot support them in accessing entry-level roles. Stronger partnerships are needed between academic providers, professional bodies, and NHS training laboratories to achieve this. The workforce is already out there and, at a time when pathologists and NHS scientists are more visible than ever, we must do everything we can to minimize barriers to accessing the profession.

What’s the key thing pathologists and biomedical scientists should know about each other?

Pathologists should know that biomedical scientists are highly qualified experts in their field, often with more than one degree as well as the required experience to become a registered professional. They are often experts in quality, training, management, and leadership, as well as scientific study. On the other hand, biomedical scientists should know that pathologists are under constant pressure and should seek to understand their needs and challenges.

I believe we can all learn from each other. The key is to respect and value each other as individuals and be kind to each other – we must include everybody, listen to diverse opinions, and work together to find a common goal. To achieve this, we must seek to understand the responsibilities, needs, and expectations of different professional groups and the pressures upon all of us, which may not always look the same and may lead to uncomfortable conversations. When we work together as a true team, we provide psychological safety and look after each other better, which helps us to improve the services we provide to our patients.

What advice would you give to graduates hoping to get a place on the STP?

Think hard about the specialty you are applying for and make sure it’s right for you. To be truly happy in your career, you must be passionate about the work, so make the right choice for yourself. In the application stage, try to find ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd, show enthusiasm, and always try to be authentic. Also, think about what value you can add to the profession (for instance, in terms of innovation, service development, and leadership). When you’re in the profession, expect to work hard – but also know that the rewards can be amazing!

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About the Author
Liv Gaskill

During my undergraduate degree in psychology and Master’s in neuroimaging for clinical and cognitive neuroscience, I realized the tasks my classmates found tedious – writing essays, editing, proofreading – were the ones that gave me the greatest satisfaction. I quickly gathered that rambling on about science in the bar wasn’t exactly riveting for my non-scientist friends, so my thoughts turned to a career in science writing. At Texere, I get to craft science into stories, interact with international experts, and engage with readers who love science just as much as I do.

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