I am so sorry that I have neglected my blog page for a while, but I have been extraordinarily busy. In the past 8 months I have changed job, and also been promoted and I’ve been doing to extra shifts to help with the Covid testing efforts, so yeah…it’s been a busy old time. I wanted to write a quick blog on my journey into Biomedical Science as I still get lots of inboxes from frustrated graduates who are experiencing the same thing I did when I finished.
When I was coming to the end of my undergraduate degree in the summer of 2019, I was particularly anxious. I knew that I wanted to become a HCPC registered Biomedical Scientist. The difficulty was, I was unsuccessful getting a placement as it was so competitive. It was a very disheartening time as the feedback I received was ‘More lab experience required’ Could you believe it – for a training placement? I was so disheartened by not being able to find a placement, or anyone who would let me do my portfolio on a voluntary basis that I very nearly gave up on a scientific career. The one thing I am grateful about from the whole rejection experience is that I was able to focus solely on my exams and ended up getting a First – which for me, was a huge achievement and personal milestone.
Hundreds of applications later, I temporarily applied for a role in a call centre – there’s nothing wrong with that, but I hadn’t spent 50 odd grand on a degree to work in a call centre – it was a stop gap. I thought to myself, ‘I’ll see what opportunities come along – surely it’s easier to find work while you are in work’…every MLA role I applied for I was rejected for. So I rang my dad, a bit despondent about what I should do and he said, ‘look, why don’t you pack up your things, and move to wales with the family – you can get on your feet’
The first thing I did was review what I was doing wrong… I had absolutely no NHS lab experience, but I did have NHS experience as I was a student nurse before switching to Biomed. The first thing I did was exclude the NHS from my job search. I cast my net slightly wider and took a job in the water industry as a chemistry analyst with Severn Trent Water analytical services. I was a really interesting job, I even thought I could settle on a long term career there and took on an MSc in Environmental Toxicology (Which I am still doing by the way, and gives me some very transferable skills that I’ve been able to put to use as a trainee BMS). However, my heart has always been wired for the health service and about 10 months or so into the role, I decided to use all of the experience I had gained of working in a laboratory to apply for some NHS roles.
I had seen some Trainee BMS roles advertised and figured I had enough experience by now to apply for them. And surprisingly, I got shortlisted for some interviews but then I got more rejections because I didn’t have enough experience for them.
I applied later for a band 2 entry level role with Public Health Wales. I got an interview and I knew it was going to be a positive experience from the moment I sat in front of the panel. It was an instantaneous hit and I felt at ease and my experience came through. What was more important to me than showing how much science I knew, was how much regard I had for samples in terms of viewing them as individually as the patient they belong to, and why I took pride in my work and upholding quality. I think what sold it at that stage was because although I am very passionate about science, the patient focus is what drives me to perform well.
I’m my role of band 2, I was able to experience what every aspect of lab work from the ground up and I rotated the benches very quickly. Fortunately I am a quick learner and I just kept asking questions and taking an interest. I mustered up the courage to inform the training officer that I had an accredited degree and would like the opportunity to start my portfolio, and there was no hesitation. I did start my portfolio as a band 2.
Due to the current pandemic, there was some openings available for band 5 annex 21 roles to help the workforce with the current pandemic due to the opening of new Hot labs and I applied. I didn’t actually think I would get the job as I was only a band 2 for 4/5 months, but here I am now 6 months down the line and working as a band 5 trainee and I have about half of my portfolio done. I work with the most wonderful team at Public Health Wales, and there aren’t really any words I say or write that could do them justice and the training officers Sylvia and Leanne are great!
My journey to becoming a registered BMS has probably been a year longer than I wanted it to be, but I have learned a great deal about what it takes to be a BMS. I’ve also learned a lot about my own commitment to the role and my work ethic, which is strong. It’s nice to go to work to have a purpose and know that you are making a little contribution to someone’s hospital say or recovery.
To summarise, here are my top tips for making a successful application for MLA/AP/Trainee BMS job.
- Don’t turn your nose up at lab work outside of the NHS if you have no lab experience
- Be open to relocating if its feasible
- Make sure you have thoroughly researched the department you are applying to
- Say if you have experience of using a Quality management system, if not.. say you are aware of what they are and why they are used – most medical labs use ISO15189.. non medical labs may use ISO17025
- It’s not just lab experience employers want evidence of, they want to see if you are an all rounder, so list your hobbies and extra curricular activities.
- Mention some of the methods you have used at university e.g. spectrophotometry, or flow cytometry as you may or may not be asked at interview if you know the principles of the method. for my trainee interview I was asked about PCR – luckily my dissertation was PCR based so I was able to give a comparison of the method I was taught (where you hade to make your own gels and use electrophoresis etc), to the now fully automated platforms we use that use computers to generate graphs and you can just look at the c-T value.
- Get in touch with guys from the IBMS. They have a very strong presence on social media and I was able to network with lots of lovely and supportive BMS’s who were really instrumental in providing information.
- if you get an interview, make sure you know the difference between quality control and quality assurance. Also be aware of any schemes the lab may participate in as part of EQA.
Also a final note. Some of the best BMS’s started out as Band 2 MLA’s… It is a highly valuable role that forms the backbone of the working lab. without the MLA’s and their technical expertise, it would be extremely difficult for BMS’s to undertake their role. Lab workers at every grade are like cogs in a well oiled machine, one cannot unction without the next. Don’t give up on pursuing your dream! It will come.