Hello, and welcome to my first blog post! Here, I will be discussing information I have found out myself whilst considering a placement year in a lab and talk about my own placement journey taking place right now. Many are unaware that they can take a placement year when they are part of the accredited Biomedical Science degree (not Biomedicine), but this is not the case.
Strictly speaking, you don’t need a placement whilst studying Biomedical Science at Lancaster University, but you will need one if you wish to complete your registration portfolio to become a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered Biomedical Scientist – enabling you to work in laboratories as a Biomedical Scientist.
As it stands, for this registration you require a completed portfolio with evidence of skills taught at a lab with IBMS Registration Training Approval and an accredited Biomedical Science degree. These two obligations can be summarised as accredited academic qualifications and essential clinical laboratory training.
Now, you don’t necessarily have to complete this year of clinical training during your degree. It’s not paid after all. However, gaining a place in an NHS lab whilst at university, with almost-guaranteed spots for successful applicants from Lancaster University at select NHS pathology labs, is much easier than competing against ALL graduates of Biomedical Science over the country seeking work placements after they have completed their degree.
As mentioned before, you do have the opportunity to apply to pre-selected NHS hospitals around the North-West of England. Just to name a few, you could potentially apply to Lancaster, Blackpool or Preston. Having spoken to Fiona Benson, the current Director of Studies, the range of successful applicants that gain the placement are between 8 – 11 per year, but this is highly dependent on if the hospitals have vacancies for undergraduates that year, so take this with a pinch of salt.
The application process includes a CV and Cover letter, to be submitted around March, and then a follow-up interviews several months later. The interview will compile of a panel of several representatives from the hospitals that are taking on applicants – be brave!
Alternatively, you can secure your own placement, as long as:
a) It is an NHS laboratory
b) The laboratory has IBMS Registration Training Approval
c) There is an available training officer for the duration of your placement, ensuring that you receive the correct training and assessments
My own experience
I for one have nobody that I know in the NHS, I’m not well connected. In October, I pondered to myself whether I was capable of even getting an interview, let alone a placement, often questioning whether I was good enough.
Eerily, I called some hospitals in and surrounding Birmingham, as I could commute there from my hometown. Unsurprisingly, I was rejected by all the hospitals that I rang. I then began to ring further out, meaning an extra hour of commuting – don’t do this. I would suggest securing a placement that you can commute to easily.
Better not, get a placement in your hometown if possible. You must consider that you will be going to work at this lab every single day for a year (excluding your 28 days holiday). A 1h30min commute there and back seems doable, but you’ll run out of money quickly and become miserable. I would also suggest that you first try hospitals that are not linked to universities – these hospitals are not likely to be already committed to other universities.
Luckily, I was able to get into contact with a pathology training manager in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals, securing separate interviews after sending a brief cover letter.
During the lab tour, I personally found the laboratory a very different environment to what we’re used to at the teaching labs at university. This particular lab was referred to as an ‘integrated lab’, meaning it had several different departments in one area. I was shown around each of perhaps 8 rooms surrounding a larger, central room. Of the smaller rooms, they had different machines including: Flow cytometers, microscopes, centrifuges, PCR areas etc. In the central room they primarily specialised in histopathology, I was even lucky to see the microtome in action!
What I have learned
Having been in that stressful environment, there are a few things I have learned about setting up my own placement that I would like to pass on to you:
1) Make sure that the staff interviewing you are under the impression from the get-go that your primary goal during the placement is to complete your portfolio.
2) Know exactly what the laboratory does. I was asked a question about what they specialised in and I could not confidently answer it. Whilst I was still offered the placement, I wish I had done more research prior to the interview – you’d better believe that I did it for the afternoon interview!
3) Ask questions. They do not expect you to be experts of the field. Also, it just shows some enthusiasm anyway!
A bit of a whistle-stop tour, but I hope this first submission has been insightful
If you would like another entry going into more detail about the questions I was asked during the interview and some more tips, comment below!