Natalie’s tips for getting the most out of your NHS science placement

Guest BloggerAdvice, Guest Blogger, On Placement, UK Placements

As a student on a placement year, it is important to make the most of your experience. People will tell you how you should prepare for the year beforehand, but what are you meant to do when you are actually on placement? Since starting my placement year as a trainee biomedical scientist in the stem cells department for NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), I have learned many ways to fully take advantage of your NHS placement.

Get yourself a Blue Light Card

For only £4.99 for two years, you can have access to amazing deals and offers. I recently bought an afternoon tea experience from ‘Virgin Experiences’ for 20% less than the original price. You can get deals on food, shopping, days out and holidays, all you need is a valid NHS staff email account. The deals are catered more towards family activities, but you are still bound to find something you like as a student.

Make the most out of shadowing

In a laboratory there will be various health care professionals, for example in my laboratory, we had biomedical scientists, clinical scientists, advanced therapeutic scientists, trainee scientists, health care officers, cleaners, lab assistants, PHD students, and many more. During my placement year, I shadowed each different job role, this was useful as I was able to develop a better understanding of how different roles work together to complete one process. Shadowing also allowed me to discover multiple paths I can take after university. Before my placement year, I had no idea what a clinical scientist was, but now I am very interested in pursuing a career as a clinical scientist. Being able to talk to a range of professionals about their education and which universities they studied at, has given me a better idea of which subject area would be best suited for my needs, if I wanted to pursue further education.

Utilise optional training courses

When you take on an NHS job, you will be required to complete mandatory training, this includes topics on health and safety, fire awareness, data security, and much more. Occasionally, the NHS will release optional training courses for any members of staff to enrol onto. Every time you are presented with this opportunity, take it. I know training sounds boring, but I found the courses to be a lot more interesting and informative than you would think. Sometimes the courses cover topics that are not usually discussed, such as the patient care pathway after an organ donation. They can also increase your awareness on topics which others may find sensitive. Some courses are practical based, providing you with the opportunity to develop or strengthen your laboratory skills, usually for free. Participation looks great on your CV.

Attend NHS webinars

The NHS runs a range of different webinars on a frequent basis, for any members of staff to attend. These webinars could be run by other NHS workers, or they could be led by guest speakers from other organizations. They usually last about an hour, and you can attend sessions during lunchtime. One of my favourite webinars I attended during my placement year was titled ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusion’, run by the ‘Biomedical Scientist Empowerment, Education and Discussion Group’, this was fascinating as I was previously not aware of all the rules Jehovah’s Witnesses have surrounding blood transfusion. Webinars are like lectures, but less content heavy and made to be more fun. If your NHS career requires ‘Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)’ registration, you will need to show evidence of ‘Continuing Professional Development (CPD)’ activities, attending a webinar is a way of proving you are keeping up to date with CPD, so you can continue to maintain your licence to practice.

Network at events

Occasionally there may be a meeting or conference happening in your area. Half-way through my placement year, my centre was responsible for running the national NHSBT board meeting. During the meeting break, I was able to network with many important people, such as managers, CEOs, and consultants. I gained advice on how to progress in my career and different routes my degree can take me, outside of laboratory work. Networking allows you to make connections with other professionals which could benefit you later in life, do not be afraid to connect with them via LinkedIn, they may even give you their contact email.

Take a visit to other departments and organisations

My mentor arranged for me to visit various departments during my placement year, such as a testing/diagnostic laboratory, hospital services, a histocompatibility and immunogenetics laboratory, and a red cell immunohematology (RCI) laboratory. I had a great time being able to shadow processes I had never seen before and even had a go myself at using some of their machines. Rotation with other departments is vital in helping you find an area of science you enjoy and may possibly want to pursue after university. I discovered that testing laboratories are not for me, I do not enjoy how automated and heavily machine based it is, I prefer a more hands-on career.

Find other placement students

Find out if your laboratory/hospital has other placement students, especially if there is a significant age gap between you and your colleagues. At my workplace, there were two other students in different departments to me, and I was able to get in touch with them through my training officer. We became good friends and spent most of our break and lunch times together. This made placement feel a lot less isolated as I had people my age to talk to whenever I was feeling down. We were also able to share ideas with each other to help aid the completion of our registration portfolio which was an essential step towards acquiring our HCPC registration. We intend to stay in contact with each other after university.

Be proactive

Depending on the type of work your laboratory carries out, be proactive and ask to get involved in projects. The placement student in RCI was able to assist a clinical scientist with a project surrounding transfusion delays due to missing paperwork, the project was presented at a ‘Serious Hazards of Transfusion’ symposium and her poster is due to be published in their transfusion journal. Imagine having a published piece of scientific work at the age of 21! Many labs will have research projects going on, so it does not harm to ask to get involved, even if they give you small simple tasks, any contribution will get your name on the publication. This would look excellent on your CV and would be a great subject to bring up during a job interview.

Keep a diary

During my placement year, every day I would note down all the important jobs/tasks I carried out that day, I also made a note of any skills I had developed, and specific machines/equipment I had used. I also made a list of all the procedures I was trained to and all the training courses I attended. Keeping this diary was a way to remind me of all the things I did during my placement year, which will be useful for after university when I apply for a job. Trying to remember everything off the top of your head can be hard, and you do not want to miss any elements which could put you at an advantage during interviews.

I hope my tips and tricks will enable you to have a fulfilling NHS experience. Just remember that at the end of the day, you are on placement to learn and explore new areas of science, and to develop your skills. There is no pressure for you to have achieved great things at this stage of your life, be kind to yourself and always speak to someone if you feel your placement year is not quite going how you expected.

Written by Natalie May Fuller