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Celebrating our Healthcare Scientists

06/10/2020
Healthcare scientists at GOSH
Healthcare Scientists at GOSH

Healthcare Scientists are involved in 80% of the diagnosis provided to patients, but who are Healthcare Scientists and what is it that they do? This Biomedical Science day, we found out.

Healthcare Scientists fulfil a number of different roles, mainly within the NHS. There are nearly 50 specialties, which are split into three main areas: 

- Physiological sciences, where most scientists work directly with patients in areas such as audiology and sleep science. 

- Physical sciences, which offer wide-ranging roles from clinical engineering to medical imaging. 

- Life sciences, where most careers tend to be laboratory based.

Today, we heard from several Healthcare Scientists which fall under the Life Sciences speciality.

Meet Elaine, Principal Clinical Scientist, Infection Prevention and Control 

"I work as part of a multi-professional team consisting of nurses and doctors and I liaise with other scientists every day. Unlike many Healthcare Scientists within life sciences, my job has a lot of patient facing components and broadly consists of three main elements: clinical work, research and education. 

"My clinical work involves both responding to cross transmission of infection and implementing national policies on their control. All of the research I do is targeted at making the clinical part of my role more effective. How can we intervene differently? Are there new scientific techniques we could be using? How can we establish an evidence base for what we are currently doing? Finally, a large part of my role is being involved in education as changing practice doesn’t work if you don’t bring people with you! 

"My involvement in the response to COVID-19 has completely changed my day to day working life. I have been involved in everything from writing policies to bring Government guidance into operational reality, to setting up testing and screening services for North Central London and advising on national sampling strategy. 

"Within two weeks of the requirement being stated to our laboratory and HCS education team; equipment, training and space had been identified to establish a whole new service. This team then validated and modified the existing testing strategy to increase sensitivity and improve patient safety. 

"For me, it has shown me how important the position I hold as the link between science and clinical service delivery is. I’m the link between the sampling and the sample processing and am able to influence across the entire patient pathway. To support rapid and effective change having this link is invaluable." 

Meet Anthony, Clinical Practice Educator

"I work to provide support and education to clinical staff and students to improve their professional practice. This can involve teaching multi-professional groups, supporting junior learners and getting involved in outreach activities to aid in recruitment and retention of Healthcare Science staff. 

"Healthcare scientists are often in the background working hard to diagnose patients and monitor the effect of treatments. Healthcare Scientists handle approximately 150 million samples a year. For us each sample is treated with care, as you would a patient. 

"The pandemic has highlighted how integral we are to those in hospital as well as the wider society. When the COVID-19 pandemic started I was partially redeployed from my Education role, to recruit and work to onboard the volunteer scientists alongside my colleague Victoria Heath which involved working with HR at UCL, LSHTM and GOSH. As the pandemic has continued I am now working with others to maintain the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) sampling stock, distribute it where it is needed and help to put together guidance materials where necessary." 

Meet Vicki, Deputy Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist 

"My main role is as Lead Quality and Risk Assurance Manager for the Physiological Sciences. I support the eight physiological sciences departments to develop their quality improvement processes and gain UKAS accreditation, which provides an assurance of the competence, impartiality and integrity of conformity assessment bodies. 

"I am also Deputy Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist, which means that I help support the Joint Trust Lead Healthcare Scientists create links between all the scientists in the hospital (there are 50 different specialties) and help create training opportunities. We also participate in a lot of outreach work, so running work experience programmes and teaching the public and patients about our careers. 

"My specialisms are Immunology and Virology so I was redeployed as part of the SARS-CoV-2 response. Virology laboratories began to receive very large numbers of requests for SARS-CoV-2 testing and it wasn’t possible for the service to process them all. I worked with local academic institutions to recruit and induct volunteer scientists to help the molecular pathology set up an NHS staff screening service.” 

Meet Annabelle, Senior Scientist in Immunology

"As an Immunologist, our team attempts to understand how the immune system develops, how the body defends itself against disease, and what happens when it all goes wrong. 

"My typical day-to-day activities have shifted greatly overnight as a result of the pandemic with a targeted focus on the rolling out of COVID-19 serology testing for staff and patients. This includes verification of available kits in the market; bringing antibody testing into routine; and training staff on how to perform the assay. 

"Amidst the challenges that we face as a lab in the battle against COVID-19, it makes me feel extremely proud that the various pathology departments within GOSH, as well as our peers from across the country, have come together and collaborated efficiently in one big joint effort in evaluating assays for SARS-CoV-2. 

"We are one of the first hospitals in the country to have spearheaded a long-term study looking at antibody responses in health care workers. Our collaborative work with peers in the field has resulted in a publication in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. With new discoveries and rapidly emerging research, we continue to explore other testing avenues for COVID-19. I believe that the importance of this work we are doing and our sheer determination and spirits to not let COVID-19 succeed are the core reasons as to why Healthcare scientists are at the heart of health care.” 

Meet Lisa, Senior Biomedical Scientist in Metabolics

"The laboratory investigates patients with known or suspected inborn error of metabolism, (when processes within our body that turn food into energy go wrong). My day to day work can involve maintaining equipment so that it is in tip-top shape. The test that these pieces of equipment perform produce a lot of data, (over 100 organic acids can be found in one urine sample). It is up to me to analyse the data to ensure it is correct so that doctors can make the right decisions in terms of diagnosis and treatment for their patients. 

"For biomedical scientists every sample is a patient and we do our very best to care for them in our unique and vital way. Our impact starts almost immediately from when a child is born.  All children in the UK will be screened for rare disorders, from which a child can become suddenly seriously ill with life altering consequences. If a child has a positive screen test the Metabolic Laboratory will perform confirmatory tests for a diagnosis. Some patients will then be on a special diet, for example if they cannot breakdown certain amino acids (the "building blocks" of protein), causing a harmful build-up of substances in the blood. Frequent monitoring helps to maintain a healthy level of these amino acids without causing harm. The Metabolic laboratory will measure the levels of these amino acids and report them to the dietitians." 

Meet Lauren, Senior Biomedical Scientist in Haematology.

"The laboratory I work in primarily deals with patients that have been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). We will test diagnostic samples to identify cancer-specific markers that can be followed throughout a patient’s treatment plan. We want these markers to decrease to a point where they are no longer detectable. These tests help to determine the correct treatment regime. In short, each patient is an individual and the tests that we perform are personalised. 

"I really enjoyed science at school, particularly biology. I knew that I did not want to go in to medicine, the patient facing element I thought I’d find daunting. But I wanted to help people. So I decided to study Biomedical Science instead, I would be able to use my knowledge to give the clinician a better understanding of what was going on clinically with a patient behind the scenes in the laboratory.” 

Meet Stuart, Joint Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist

"I am a Principal Clinical Scientist in a specialist area of Haematology supporting Bone Marrow Transplants (and other Haematopoietic cell transplants) and Gene Therapy here. I also have an Honorary Senior Lecturer Post with UCL. 

"Since the pandemic, my research staff and students have been busy with SARS-CoV-2 research. We are tweaking existing diagnostic techniques to analyse the T cell repertoire and compare between non-infected individuals and between age groups in a collaborative study with Imperial College London. My GOSH team have also assisted with the screening program for SARS-CoV-2 here at GOSH, primarily with repurposing lab equipment. 

“My role as joint Lead Healthcare Scientist allows me to see how diverse and committed our workforce is. It is encouraging how many of our Healthcare Scientists are so proud to work at GOSH and sincerely believe that we should be striving to have the best, most innovative and cutting-edge scientific services here."

We're sending a big thanks to all our Healthcare Scientists and wishing them a happy Biomedical Science day!

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