Clinical Scientist (I work in a hospital laboratory)
1995-1997 Six Form College; 1997-2001 Cardiff University; 2001-2005 Nottingham University; 2008-2010 (part time) University of London
A level Biology, Chemistry and Physics, BSc in Microbiology, MSc in Clinical Microbiology and a PhD in Molecular Microbiology
Quality control in a pencil factory; Administration for a power company; Development technician in a cosmetics and toiletries factory; Research scientist in a clinical microbiology lab; Clinical scientist
Clinical Scientist in Microbiology
Public Health England
I design the hospital tests that help doctors know if their patients have got an infection and what to treat them with.
I’m a microbiologist and that means I work with micro-organisms. Micro-organisms are living things that are so small you need a microscope to see them like viruses, bacteria and some fungi and parasites.
A clinical or medical microbiologist like me works with micro-organisms that can cause disease and make humans ill. The hospital laboratory where I work gets hundreds of samples from people with infections every day. The samples get taken by doctors and nurses and get sent to our laboratory. We get urine, poo, sputum (spit), skin swabs, nose and throat swabs, blood samples, pus, bits that surgeons have cut off and a whole lot more. It can be quite disgusting but it’s always interesting.
Once we get the samples we test them depending on what they are and what the doctor thinks is wrong with the patient. We have lots of different ways of finding micro-organisms in the samples: we can look at the sample down a microscope, we can grow bacteria or fungi on agar plates or, if the micro-organisms won’t grow on agar plates we can find their DNA and tell what they are.
Once we know what micro-organisms are in a patent’s sample we can find out what antibiotics or other drugs will help kill them and cure the patient.
My work is mainly to help design new tests so we can find more disease causing organisms, find them faster, find them more accurately or tell more information about them.
My Typical Day
A bit of lab work, a bit of writing, a bit of researching, a bit of discussing and problem solving
There are lots of different things I do during the day.
At the start of a new project I spend a lot of time finding out background information. I go to scientific conferences to see what other scientists are doing round the world, I read scientific papers and sometimes I just “google” to find out what’s out there on the internet.
Some days I get my white coat on and work in the laboratory doing experiments. I’ll be trying new things to see what works best. I also spend a lot of time in the lab when I have a new test method working but need to test it against lots of samples. We have to be really careful that we are 100% sure the results of the tests we do are correct because people’s lives might depend on them.
After I’ve done the lab work, I spend time writing. Scientists have to write up everything they do so that other people can understand what they did and why. If the results are really important I will try and get them published in a scientific journal so other scientists from all over the world know about my work.
On most days I end up giving expert advice. I work with the biomedical scientists who carry out the tests I have designed so if anything goes wrong we can work out the problem and fix it together. I also talk to doctors and nurses to explain the tests we do so they can send us the right samples from patients at the right time.
How I got into this job
I trained as a Clinical Scientists via an old training scheme. The new way to become a Clinical Scientists is via the STP scheme: http://www.nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/join-programme/nhs-scientist-training-programme
I did my first degree in Microbiology but discovered this didn’t qualify me to work in a hospital laboratory. So I then tried doing a PhD in molecular microbiology. I learnt a lot doing this but also realised that I wasn’t cut out for an academic career in universities. I then did a lot of temporary jobs in administration (where I picked up some good data analysis skills) and in making cosmetics (which was a lot of fun).
I started work in my current laboratory as a technician (a medical technical officer) getting new tests and services up and running. I was then offered the opportunity to train as a Clinical Scientist in the lab where I worked. Following my training I did some temporary research work and then applied for my current post as a Clinical Scientist.
What's the best thing you've ever done in your career?
Seeing a test I have designed making a difference to a sick person’s treatment
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in the same career as you?
Start by looking here: https://www.nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/careers-in-healthcare-science
What do you see as your next step in your career?
I really enjoy what I'm doing at the moment. There are plenty of new challenges so I don't plan to change that anytime soon.
What other sorts of jobs can you do with your qualifications?
With my degree and PhD I could have gone into academic research or into various companies that employ scientists to develop useful products.
What's the best part of your current job?
Being able to work on projects that start with just an idea and finish with a working test we can do in the lab and seeing that test make a difference to patients.
What don't you like about your current job?
The lack of funding in the public sector