Google+ Facebook Twitter Twitter

How to... secure a placement

Biomedical science student Ryan O’Neil talks through his placement experiences and provides advice for anyone considering applying.

In September 2021, I began my placement year in the Cellular Pathology Department at University Hospital Southampton. This placement is a year out of my Biomedical Science degree at the University of Portsmouth. During my placement I am working towards completing my IBMS Registration Portfolio to become an HCPC-registered biomedical scientist. The Cellular Pathology Department is situated in the south block of the hospital and is on Floor E, which means running up five flights of stairs when you’re a bit late!

Applying for a placement

The opportunity to apply for this placement was well advertised by my university, going as far back as when I was attending open days while on the university hunt. In the run up to the application process, we attended online meetings with representatives from different hospitals who gave us brief overviews of the departments offering placement positions. Also within these meetings, students who had completed placements in the previous year shared their experiences, giving further insight into what the placement had to offer.

Applications for the year began in March 2021, and involved a written application and interview. The application required a cover letter in which I had to outline why I would be a good fit for the NHS and any relevant previous work experience. I also had to submit a form stating my chosen departments and locations. I applied for microbiology, which was only being offered by Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham. For some of us, our applications successfully gained us access to the interview stage of the process. The interviews were conducted virtually and organised in a round-robin style involving rotating through rooms representing different disciplines. Each interview lasted for around five minutes and involved two questions, assessing competency, values or soft skills and one extra question based on the preferred discipline choice.

Eagle-eyed readers may have picked up that my chosen option does not match my current placement. I did not receive an offer for microbiology, likely because I panicked when asked my subject-specific question and did not respond overly competently. Therefore, I was amazed when I received an email stating that I had managed to secure a position elsewhere. Initially, I was of course slightly disappointed that I did not get into microbiology. However, I realised that the few pre-COVID labs I had at university would be beneficial for working in cellular pathology as I had experience using a microscope and performing haemotoxylin and eosin stains.

Starting my placement

I was given a tour of the lab and its facilities, along with a timetable in which I would rotate through new areas of the department each month. At the start of my placement a big challenge I faced was feeling out of depth. Despite having two years worth of academic biomedical experience, I was not accustomed to the specific techniques, machines and procedures. However, everyone in the department was extremely supportive as they didn’t expect me to already have these skills. In each section of the lab, I was appointed a trainer with whom I would first observe the techniques, then perform them myself with supervision and finally perform without supervision. This format of learning was especially useful within the more technical parts of the lab, such as embedding and microtomy, which are not immediately easy to perform and require lots of practice. A fair number of those working in the department had also submitted their portfolios to gain their HCPC registration  and were able to give lots of guidance.

As part of my registration, I have to complete 30 pieces of evidence in order to meet the standards of proficiency. The content of these pieces of evidence ranges from research and writing pieces, to practical in-lab activities, such as performing technical procedures. At the end of the year, all of my competency evidence is compiled into a portfolio and verified by the IBMS. Alongside this, I will conduct a tour of the lab for the IBMS verifier to show that I understand the work of the department and my role within it.

Practising and refining

My favourite area of the lab so far has definitely been microtomy, purely due to the progress that I have made. On my first day of using a microtome I just could not get the technique right at all and left at the end of the day feeling a bit hopeless. Then on my second day, I was determined to get it perfect to make up for the day before and… the sections I produced were still rubbish. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day of practice that I had become more comfortable with the techniques and started to build up a bit of muscle memory that I was able to produce much better sections. It was irrational to think that I could immediately master the technique and that’s what the placement is all about – practising and refining skills in a clinical environment where there are no expectations for you to have them on arrival.

Advice for others

To any students that are unsure, I would recommend applying for a placement year due to the great experiences I have had and the opportunities that becoming HCPC registered will offer. If you do choose to apply, I would recommend that you attempt to make your application the best it can be – include why you want to work for the NHS specifically and why you are the perfect choice. It would also be beneficial to attempt to conduct some work experience before the application, as this will boost your application and help you, even if you do not secure a placement spot. Another piece of advice that I would give is do not be put off if you do not receive your chosen speciality, it may be a bit of a let down initially but the general skills you gain will be a massive benefit for any jobs you go on to apply for in the future and, most importantly, you’ll have a great time with some amazing experiences no matter in which speciality you perform your training.  

Related Articles