Jackie joined CUH in 2017 after completing Applied Science BTEC at Sixth Form College. Jackie joined as a direct entry level 3 lab technician apprentice and then moved into a substantive job role and onto the degree programme straight after completing the Level 3.
Background and Role
Jackie feels that although she had a level 3 qualification from sixth form, studying a level 3 apprenticeship was beneficial as she lacked the hands-on experience. It gave her almost 2 years lab experience in a paid role with a further qualification in order for her to get onto the degree apprenticeship course.
Jackie works within Tissue Typing, also known as the Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics lab. Her title is Medical Lab Assistant/Trainee Biomedical Scientist.
Jackie’s duties include general laboratory maintenance, sample reception duties such as receiving a labelling samples, SSP testing for disease association, and out of hours on call rota.
The team carry out routine tests, including testing for pre and post- transplantation and carry out disease association testing, which includes Coeliac disease.
How has the Covid-19 Pandemic affected the Role?
During the first lockdown Jackie was seconded from her department to work in the Covid-19 Biobank laboratory in the hospital for a few weeks. This was a good opportunity to try out a new role and gave good experience which can be put towards the degree portfolio.
Science Degree Apprenticeship
In 2020 Jackie started the second year of a four year Biomedical Science Degree Apprenticeship at University of Hertfordshire. There is a cohort of nine apprentices on her course, the majority of whom work at CUH, with a few from other employers. Before the pandemic apprentices travelled and studied together one day a week onsite at the University where they have a class or a lecture in the morning and a tutorial in the afternoon. They would join lectures with students studying the fulltime version of the degree.
As an apprentice the study day is more intense as they need to be back in their working role the rest of the week, so Jackie would make the most of the time spending time after classes studying at the university getting assignments completed.
There is usually one exam each year and the majority of the work is based on coursework with a block release for practical work twice a year. Exams usually include multiple choice, data interpretation and essay questions to complete under exam conditions. During social distancing times in the pandemic, learning changed to remote delivery, lectures have been offered as a recording and then having a live remote tutorial and question and answer sessions on their study day.
Jackie feels that the degree apprenticeship route is fairly intense as a part time student. Time management is very important and a skill that she has. The support for the apprenticeship is very good. At the university the apprentices have a dedicated university/employer liaison tutor.
As well as having good support in the department from manager, mentor and colleagues, the CUH apprentices also have a senior science lead in the hospital who monitors how the degree is going and meets with the group once a month for a feedback session.
As a group they also have plans to shadow each other’s roles in different lab specialities.
What is the benefit of being an apprentice?
The benefit of being an apprentice is you get to learn the role from scratch, increase exposure, experience and awareness in a laboratory environment and gain more responsibility as time goes on. Those who come to work in the lab straight from university may miss some of the basic skills and take them longer to recognise them. Learning from the basic duties also highlights the importance of other roles within the lab and understand how everyone’s part in the testing process fit together.
I will complete my degree apprenticeship with six years’ experience in the lab (including my level 3 qualification), with an accredited degree, which did not cost me money to study.Jackie - Biomedical Science Apprentice
Also once I have the degree qualification it will equip me to work in any area of pathology in future if I wanted to move around.
What is the benefit to employers in having apprentices?
Jackie feels that for employers having apprentices who start new in the role gives them a fresh set of eyes as opposed to longer term staff or students who might be more set in their ways of working.
In Jackie’s department they have an open policy of accepting new ideas and ask staff to write on a board each week and then discuss in a team meeting.
Also, for existing staff being able to sign up to an apprenticeship encourages confidence in the employer increasing staff loyalty and retention.
Jackie would like to become a HCPC registered Biomedical Scientist and after that think about working towards becoming a clinical scientist moving into a senior role. As part of this she can study an in-house clinical scientist training course.