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Healthcare science career pathways – my story

Kathleen Murphy, a recent genetics graduate and current trainee diagnostic scientist, explains how her degree in life science led to a career in the NHS.

Initial study and work experience

My undergraduate degree in genetics facilitated my learning in basic genetics, molecular mechanisms of the cell and evolutionary biology. It mainly focused on the research point of view, looking at model organisms and their use in studying human genome and the 1000 genome project. However, I was still unsure as to what steps had been taken in diagnostic medicine and how recent discoveries impact on those still waiting for a diagnosis. I knew from early on in my studies that I aspired to be involved in human genetics, but the career pathways always were not always necessarily clear. In this article I want to give you a flavour of the healthcare science career pathways in the UK and some of the information I’ve subsequently found during my time in diagnostics.

During the summer prior to my honours year at university, I was lucky enough to be accepted for a placement at the West of Scotland Regional Genetics Service, where I learned a little more about the services available to patients on the NHS. I observed from sample reception all the way through to reporting of patient results. I had the opportunity discuss and discover the many referral reasons with the clinical scientists and realise how rapidly the requirement for genetic testing was becoming. It was here that I met staff who worked for the University of Glasgow medical genetics teaching team and some of the students, doing placements and projects in the diagnostic labs. Following my graduation, I realised the medical genetics MSc was the next step for me in order to explore medical genetics in practise.

MSc studies

The MSc course material was delivered by both university and hospital staff, ensuring a completely up-to-date and realistic representation of the practice of genetics in the diagnostic setting. I had the opportunity to observe clinics and visit the regional diagnostic laboratories . The broad range of experiences during my masters reinforced my aim of working in healthcare science and led me to apply for the role of genetic technologist at Sheffield Diagnostic Genetics Service.

On my appointment as a genetic technologist, I learned much more of the career paths and many different roles available to me in the diagnostic setting with plenty of additional learning opportunities along the way, should you wish to take on more personal study. Now after only 17 months, I am embarking on the next step in my career as I take on the role of trainee clinical scientist in genomics at Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine. There are two main categories in the diagnostic setting at the moment, the Modernising Scientific Careers routes and the technologist pathway, however as my career demonstrates, it is possible to move between the two once you have the necessary training and experience.

Modernising Scientific Careers pathways

The first route of training is known as Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC) and is a UK Government initiative supporting training of the NHS healthcare workforce over many different levels and specialisms including genomics. Most routes require University/personal study in addition to work-based training and you gain a certificate at the end of the programme. . More information can be found on the National School of Healthcare Science website. As I mentioned I am about to begin my STP training in genomics. Another option available which is new as of 2016 is the genomic counselling option.

Technologist roles

As well as the MSC routes, the technologist routes are another way of working within the NHS in a healthcare role. Whilst the role does not officially require extra study and is purely work based, I found that there were plenty of opportunities for continual professional and personal development that you can get involved in. For example, Health Education England are encouraging diagnostic departments to support staff in the enrollment on the Genomic Medicine MSc, CPPD modules or online courses to advance their knowledge in areas relating to their role. For more information see the link below.

I was lucky enough to be able to complete an omics and bioinformatics module which I found extremely interesting but also useful in my role as next generation sequencing technologist.

These roles also provide excellent technical and analytical experience should you wish to eventually apply to the PTP or STP scheme and you are looking to add to your skills. Technologist posts are also well suited to those who perhaps would prefer the technical and laboratory work in the diagnostic setting, as opposed to reporting of patient results and liaising with clinicians for example and career progression is also available through this route, providing you have enough experience (usually 3 years) to apply for AHCS GT registration.

As I have found, within which ever route(s) you chose, the work is extremely stimulating and working within such a fast-paced patient focused department is incredibly fulfilling. Although I studied for 5 years at The University of Glasgow to gain the necessary qualifications to take these routes, I have learned an immense amount in my relatively short time working in diagnostics. On a daily basis, I continue to learn about this rapidly expanding field and how it is revolutionising medicine as we know it. Improvements to services are happening all the time to improve patient care and outcomes as our knowledge grows.

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So You Want to Study Life Science?

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