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The big question: how should we encourage and retain more biomedical support staff?

How should we encourage and retain more biomedical support staff?

Emma Victory

Team Lead

UKHSA Malaria Reference Lab

The relentless march of automation in pathology services, further accelerated due to the high volume of COVID-19 testing, requires a growing army of biomedical support staff for service delivery.

The pandemic has seen increased opportunities for support staff to step into advanced lab roles where they can play an important part in healthcare innovation; working on projects to introduce new equipment, assays, or testing algorithms. These vital contributions from support staff should be celebrated within our profession – they are aspirational goals.

Not all support staff will wish to progress into a biomedical scientist role. But for those who do, transparency on potential routes to registration is essential. Where possible, we should encourage the development of “home-grown” biomedical scientists. If this is not possible in their current post, staff should be assisted to follow their dreams, even if that means moving on, as this benefits the individual and our profession.

Support staff need variety and development opportunities within their roles. CPD is more than just going to lunchtime talks; development is not just about getting certificates. We can all learn and develop continuously within our roles through reflection, discussion, and shared lessons. Leaders who encourage a positive culture of development for all levels of staff can enable this. Let us work together to pull down hierarchical barriers in the lab and keep asking “what can we learn from each other?”

Kinjal Patel

Senior Biomedical Scientist

North West London Pathology (NWLP)

In my opinion, effective leadership, high levels of staff engagement, clear career pathways and a supportive working environment will be the keys to retaining our support staff.

We need to make our support staffs feel valued and nurtured by actively listening to them, assisting them in setting their goals and by demonstrating empathy. Recognising their hard work and contribution through meaningful staff engagement is important and will help build their loyalty towards the organisation. Seeking their involvement and feedback is crucial – being heard and feeling valued increases the chances of retaining our staff for longer.

In addition, appropriate training in conjunction with opportunities can advance their skill set and increases their chances of future progression.

As leaders we need to be visible, approachable, communicate well and provide guidance on career paths available to them. Sharing our own career path – explaining where we started – can provide encouragement for them to do the same.

I have seen many support staff, including myself, achieve goals not just through hard work but also through being part of a supportive environment where we felt cherished by our leaders. The leadership team at NWLP provided constant support, guidance, mentoring and opportunities.

In future, I want to do the same for our support staff – they are our future workforce and nothing will be more rewarding than seeing them grow within the team.

Dan Smith

Laboratory Manager Haematology

Oxford University Hospitals

NHS Foundation Trust

We need to be honest with graduates who want to get their feet in the door. Do we have the capacity to support those who are working as support workers on the

IBMS Portfolio? It can be done, but countervailing pressures will include how many support workers and vacancies the department has and how many trainees the department is supporting.

Part-time students are a valuable resource, but there is the potential for tension, as students see their degrees as the priority and the department sees work as the priority.

For non-graduates who may be long-term employees, we need to ask why people will apply for reasons other than access to long-term career progression? Support workers are a minimum of Band 2, and this year the NHS increased the Band 2 starting salary earlier than the rest of the pay grades, as if it had not done so, £9.49 per hour would be below the minimum wage. Departments need to recognise that flexibility is important for support staff if they can get comparable pay elsewhere, and that may be possible in a 24/7/365 environment. Non-degree qualifications may be an important opportunity for this group too, although not all will want to take up the opportunity.

Overall, support workers are a critical and vital part of the laboratory workforce and different people will apply for different reasons, so there needs to be more than one way to maintain this vital staff group.

Image credit | Getty

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