A year in NHS labs

By Chloe Heppenstall

What goes on in the NHS laboratories? 

Rather than a research-based placement, my time in the NHS laboratories involved completing routine assays to test samples and deliver crucial patient results as soon as possible. I was part of the Immunology team within Laboratory Medicine, however there are numerous different departments, such as haematology, virology, microbiology, or chemistry. Having previously worked in the NHS as a domestic, I thought I knew a lot about what happens in the hospitals, but this placement was a huge eye opener as to how much goes on behind the scenes! 

Thank you NHS by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Why I applied for a placement year. 

As I was heading into my second year of University, I was developing a deep interest for Immunology, however I was unsure on what careers would involve this work, and if I would enjoy it. I figured a laboratory-based placement would be the best way for me to understand what work in this sector looks like, and if it was something that I could thrive in. From enjoying my time in the labs at university, I knew a hands on, lab-based placement would be something for me. By taking on this exciting opportunity in the Immunology laboratory in the NHS, I was able to utilise my skill set and knowledge further in an area I was keen on progressing into. 

Me wearing different PPE

What does a typical day look like? 

Each day differed depending on which bench I was allocated to. Within the department, there are 7 different benches, which a Biomedical Scientist would usually spend between 2-6 months on before rotating. These benches involve techniques such as gel electrophoresis, immunofluorescence, immunofixation, immunodisplacement, and automated and manual assays. As part of my placement, I had the opportunity to rotate around all the benches, and each bench was dissimilar to the last. Depending on turnaround times, any backlogs of samples, or any additional work the lab was taking on from other labs, one bench could be a lot busier compared to other benches, and require more staff members to help.  

Identifying monoclones via gel electrophoresis] 

What did I learn? 

In addition to utilising laboratory techniques I acquired during university, I learnt a range of new methods which I will carry as valuable experience for future job prospects. Furthermore, I learnt the importance of turnaround times, and the impact which can occur for the patient if these are not met. My professionalism also grew, as I frequently had to speak to other healthcare professionals, such as nurses in A&E, or midwives. Outside of the lab, the clinical scientists held lectures and journal club sessions, which focussed on the clinical applications and impact of the assays we were completing in the laboratory. This was useful as time in the lab can become very fast paced and repetitive, and it can be easy to forget why you are doing what you are doing. Finally, I made a lot of friends who share similar interests and hobbies to myself, which enabled me to develop a healthy work-life balance. 

Me extracting calprotectin samples in a fume cupboard

What did I find challenging? 

Although many people warned me, adjusting to the 9-5 working life was extremely difficult. Despite my day finishing at 5 and having my weekends off, I have been just as tired working 9-5 than I was at university with loads of deadlines! On the other hand, there was no stress like there is with university, and if I ever had any problems with work, or I did not understand a concept, the team in Immunology were so welcoming and would give me as much time as I needed to understand and complete something. 

Would I recommend a placement to other students? 

Absolutely. The skills and experience you acquire whilst on a placement are invaluable, and put you in the best position for applying to jobs after university. If you are seeking hands on experience and a taste of the real world outside of university, do not hesitate to apply to placement opportunities! Aside from the unique skillset I have acquired, I have also been given opportunities to meet new people and discuss their opinions on interesting real-life assay topics, and my potential career in the NHS. I feel confident in a laboratory workplace, which is something I never thought I would be saying! 

I now cannot wait to complete my final year at university, obtain my degree, and take my skillset further either in postgraduate studies or in a job. 

Would your blood glow?

By Sarah Holder

The Beginning 

All the way back at the start of my second year at Newcastle University, the thought of a placement year was a nice one, but I never thought I’d be one of the lucky few to be offered one! When I came across the advert for the job at Labcorp Huntingdon, I knew it would be the only intern position I wanted to apply for. The role sounded perfect and it was located only half an hour from my home village. I sent off my initial application and then received an invite for an interview! And then another! And another! I couldn’t believe it when I received a phone call in January to say I had been offered the intern position for Immunology and Immunotoxicology 2022-2023. Brilliant! 

Background to my Project 

Human blood is made up of several major components including plasma, platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. White blood cells are involved in the body’s response to infection and need to be tested separately to the rest of the blood components to see the best results.  

Via Giphy.

Infections can come in the form of viruses or bacteria. Viruses present markers called epitopes on their surface which the white blood cells use to identify what they are. Bacteria don’t directly present these epitopes but via white blood cells they infect which present their epitopes for them. When these epitopes are come across in the bloodstream, specific white blood cells release chemicals called cytokines to activate the immune response and fight the infection. We were adding epitopes artificially in the form of our stimulants to elicit a response from six different human donors and judge the stimulant that gives the clearest response across the six blood samples.   

My Project 

My project during my time on placement at Labcorp had two parts. Improving the white blood cell isolation method and investigating white blood cell responses to positive controls we added to them and attaching fluorescent green and red markers to the different cytokines produced. We had longer to plan my project than expected so it didn’t get into the lab until May, creating more pressure for everything to go smoothly once it was underway. If anything had gone drastically wrong, we wouldn’t have had enough time to order the reagents required for another attempt. The images taken at the end were full of fluorescent spots so the project worked! 

Via Giphy

My project has provided a future method for FluoroSpot assays to be carried out at Labcorp on our Huntingdon site which will hopefully be able to bring more revenue into I&I. Future research into the method we developed for my project could be done to optimise it further and make it a more streamlined process. 

Life on Placement 

I was lucky enough to not only secure a placement but secure a placement I could commute to from my home. Thankfully, my parents were happy to have me back for another year! While the 6:45am wakeup call wasn’t my favourite, I could spend my evenings visiting my friends from home, which was lovely. I worked a mixture of 8am-4pm and 8:30am-4:30pm throughout the week and it was nice actually being able to catch a glimpse of daylight in the winter when leaving at 4pm instead of both arriving and leaving in what feels like the dead of night every day. 

Every month a department social was held by the I&I Social Committee. My favourites were the Halloween bar crawl, Christmas party and lab getaway weekend to a lakeside cabin with the team.  These really helped me to feel part of the team during my time working at Labcorp. 

Via Giphy

Summary 

I would really recommend a placement year to anyone considering one, the lab experience gained is a perfect CV addition for life after university and the additional skills of working in a team and independently while in an industry setting are invaluable. I was very fortunate and had the best line manager in terms of supporting my transition into a working environment, this was aided massively by the chocolate that magically appeared on my desk every Friday. I’m not sure what my future after university is going to be yet, but thanks to my placement year I know I can join a workplace and adapt to fit in very quickly, and training can be provided if I feel I have any gaps in my knowledge for my future role. No question is a stupid question! 

Day in the life of a student dietitian on placement

By Anna Slater

I’m Anna, a stage 2 Dietetics student and a social media intern for the Biomedical, Nutritional and Sports Science school. Before Christmas we took part on a few placement experiences at care settings and also Simply Food Solutions, a company that specialises in making texture modified foods. As part our degree, we must partake in 1000 hours of voluntary placement to help teach us important skills and expertise to help us become better dietitians. During these two days I learnt values that are important to use when working as a dietitian, particularly with those who have dementia.  

The care setting I was placed at is called St Anthony’s of Padua community centre for a day, which is a charitable organisation providing a wide range of care and support services enhancing the social and physical wellbeing of adults with mild-complex care needs such as dementia or impaired mobility. In the morning I was placed in the Day Service, where the service users come from 9-3pm for Breakfast and Lunch and to socialise with the other service users. We spoke to the chef in the Day Service kitchen and she discussed all the conditions she had to cater for. They had different rimmed plates – green and yellow. The green plates were for service users who had dementia, because it makes it easier for them to see the food on their plate. The yellow plates were for those who had to have levelled diets based on the IDDSI framework (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative). The IDDSI framework describes a levelled system of food and was created for patients who have been diagnosed with dysphagia, which means they have swallowing difficulties.

IDDSI levelled system – photo from IDDSI – IDDSI Framework

The highest levelled diet they had to cater for was for a level 4, the consistency of which being pureed so they don’t require any chewing and promotes safe swallowing for the service user.  The chef would purify the foods herself using a blender and would make sure that he had lots of food options that the service user could enjoy whilst maintaining a safe swallow. One of the service users was a type 1 diabetic who was injecting insulin, so they had to make sure that they had sugar-free options for dessert. I felt like this was a valuable experience because I really learnt how to communicate with empathy and how to approach conversations with people who have difficulty conversing. It was clear the positive impact that St Anthony’s had on the quality of life of the service users, and keeps them being able to socialise. 

After lunch, I joined one of the staff members on their home visits. We went to a few houses with service users who had chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes or who had had falls. The purpose of the carers was to assist the service users to check in on them and make sure they are eating, taking their medication, and also to help with any basic needs such as showering or washing. My role here was to ask the service user questions about their diet and how they manage their condition.  

We then had a morning placed at the Simply Food Solutions factory in South Shields. Simply Food Solutions is a company that create texture-modified foods for patients with dysphagia. Dysphagia is a condition where the patients has difficulty swallowing. The main consumers are hospitals where they provide these products so the patients have a more enjoyable eating experience. The company’s primary objective is to produce food that meets home-cooked standards, making sure they are authentic and tasty. Each dish complies with the IDDSI guidelines for texture. We were given a tour of the factory, and we were required to wear protective gear including hair nets, shoe covers and special white coats, to comply with strict food hygiene regulations. You can see the outfit in its full glory in the picture below, and all layered up prepared for the cold freezer rooms! 

Getting dressed up in our protective gear to explore the factory (with lots of cosy layers underneath ready for the freezer room!)

The first part of the factory was a huge cold storage freezer, which was a whole room! Separate freezer rooms were designated for meat, vegetables and dairy. It was so cold when we went in them, so it was a good job that we had layered up! We were then showed where the meals were prepared and cooked, and there were huge ‘kettles’ which held around 300 litres of water. The meals were cooked in these kettles, and then underwent a rapid cooling process in a blast chiller. Following this, they were transferred to large blenders equipped with blades designed to ensure that the food met the specified texture. Post-blending, the food was sent to packaging where individual workers carefully weighed each portion before automated machines sealed the packages. The final step involved placing the packaged items into blast freezers, preparing them for shipment to consumers. After the factory tour we were able to test the meals to make sure they met the necessary requirements by using certain utensils and seeing how the food behaved. We were given checklists that matched the IDDSI framework, and using forks and our fingers we had to assess the texture, appearance and thickness of the foods. We then tried to recreate these back in the food labs at university inspired by the foods we saw at Simply Foods Solutions.

Our recreations of the texture modified foods we saw at Simply Food Solutions made in the food labs

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed these placement sessions, and I learned a lot about the importance of texture modified diets and how they can improve the quality of life with people with dysphagia. Despite the texture being different, the taste and appearance of food still has a huge impact on the enjoyment of eating. The more appetising the food looks, the more likely it is that the patient is going to eat it, which is very important to maintain a healthy weight and to avoid malnutrition, which is common with dysphagia. The texture is also important to prevent choking hazards. For me it also highlighted the importance of care settings like St Anthony’s providing places where older and isolated people can come together and socialise, which greatly improves their quality of life and morale. The most valuable skill I gained was the ability to communicate with all the service users and approach conversations despite certain barriers. These were two very enjoyable sessions and I am looking forward to my 1-week NHS placement in Easter, where I will be based in St Nicholas’ Hospital in Gosforth, where I will get a greater insight into what a Dietitian’s role within the hospital entails.  

For more information on Dietetics and how to apply, visit Dietetics MDiet | Undergraduate | Newcastle University (ncl.ac.uk) 

Links: 

Overview – St Anthony of Padua Care Services – NHS (www.nhs.uk) 

IDDSI – IDDSI – IDDSI Framework

Home – Simply Food Solutions 

Day in the life of a Student Dietitian on Placement – Eating Disorders

Hi – it’s Georgia the Student Dietitian again! So on the last blog post I talked about what it was like to be on placement in a secure inpatient unit. I said I would also give some insight into my day in the life in an Eating Disorder unit – so here it is!

Background context – Eating Disorders is an umbrella term that can describe many different disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and others. The patients in my care ranged from 18 to 75 years old and covered all genders. There is lots of psychology often required within Eating Disorder services, so Dietitians work alongside other healthcare staff to provide a holistic form of care to patients. For my placement I worked across inpatient units (on a ward within a hospital), community, and day service. This gave me a really good insight into all of the different areas you could work in as a Dietitian in Eating Disorders.

The different types of services: So i mentioned that there are three different types of services. I am just going to explain a tiny bit about each one so that you are aware of the difference.

Inpatient services – This is where patients are on a ward and have their own rooms. They are monitored and supported 24/7 by staff and are sometimes allowed leave off the ward. Patients on these ward often get their weight and bloods monitored more often and can be put onto a feeding tube if necessary.

Community – This is a service which manages and supports Eating Disorder Patients within the comfort of their own homes. Dietitians will often visit patients where they live and provide advice and support around meal plans and cooking facilities etc.

Day service – Day service is a service which allows patients to attend a clinic for the whole day or half the day to have their meals and be supported by cooking for themselves. So patients tend to spend the whole day at the service and they will have supervised breakfast, lunch, dinner and 3 snacks. They are also supported to cook for themselves in order to mimic what it would be like for the patients at home.

My day to day experience:

As all of the services were very different, I unfortunately do not have enough writing room to describe all of these (plus I think you would probably get bored!). Therefore, here is a day in the life of a student on an inpatient ward….

Morning: I usually arrive at the hospital at 9am to prepare for the day. The Dietitians have their own office where they can produce resources, write up notes and host team meetings with other healthcare professionals. The start of the day I would usually read about on patient backgrounds and fill in my patient notes based on what I can already access (for example recent weights and blood results). I would then find out what diet plan they are currently on and assess whether this would need changing (diet plans are often progressed step by step to gradually increase intake). After this, I would then usually see around 2 patients for lunch to discuss their progress and come up with future action plans.

Afternoon: After the patients (and staff) have their lunch, we usually continue consultations with patients throughout the afternoon. We do have to be careful to not interrupt snack times however as this is obviously a very important part of their day. Often patients are very visibly upset during consultations as the last thing they want to discuss is food, so showing lots of empathy and understanding can really go a long way during these sessions. Again, my communication skills in this sector definitely developed further as it was very different to what I had learnt at Uni! After my consultation sessions, I would then make any changes to diet plans if this was necessary that day and would add this to the patient notes. I would then head home for a good sleep as I am usually very tired by the end of the day!

As always, if anyone has any questions about what it is like to do Dietetics and what placement is like, please leave a comment! Thank you 🙂

Day in the Life of a Student Dietitian on Placement

Hi everyone! My name is Georgia and I am a 4th year Dietetics Student. When people ask me ‘so what do you do?” I dread it, because the conversation normally goes like this: “I do Dietetics at University” “You do what now? I’ve never heard of that! Do you just tell people to not be fat?”.

So, in order to give a bit of an insight into what Dietitians do, I have decided to describe a day in the life whilst I am at placement! My placement is split into two sectors – Forensic Secure Inpatient Service and Eating Disorders. I am going to give you a bit of an overview of what it has been like in both, however I will do a separate post for my experience in Eating Disorders otherwise this could be quite a lengthy post!

Secure inpatient services

As the name suggests, Secure Inpatient Services is a hospital for people with mental health illnesses who have committed crimes. Rather than going to prison, people are admitted into a secure hospital for psychiatric treatment. You might think – “How does a Dietitian fit into a secure unit?” – I thought the same thing! The main role that I had during my time at this service was educational sessions regarding cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately in a service such as this, many patients are on antipsychotic medicines which can often have a significant side effect of weight gain. Due to this, many of the patients within this unit had a BMI of over 45 (for reference, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9).

So now I have provided some context, welcome to my day in the life!

Morning: I wake up at about 7:30 to make sure that I have time to have a proper breakfast and get prepared for the day. I then drive to the hospital and often join a team ‘huddle’ in the morning. Huddles are a meeting with all the Dietetics staff (including Nutritionists and Dietetic Assistants) to discuss how we are getting on with the patients and if we have any new referrals. After this meeting, I would then go down to the ward to see a patient for an education session. To get onto the ward you have to go through an airlock system with lots of security measures in place. Once on the ward, I would normally have an educational session regarding the consequences of high saturated fat and sugar intake on our cardiovascular health. Some patients who I was giving education sessions to were in ‘seclusion’, which is a separate room from everyone else that most people are not allowed to enter. This made communication fairly difficult, but it was a great learning curve!

Afternoon: After lunch, I would usually prepare for the patients that I was seeing that afternoon. I would read through all the patient notes to gather a background on the patient and produce any resources which I may need for the sessions. Many of the patients that I was working with could not read and the only resources we had available were lengthy written resources, so I spent a lot of time producing easy read, pictorial resources for patients which seemed to go down very well. After my sessions with the patients, I would then attend a basketball session with a patient with a BMI of 54 to encourage physical exercise. This was a great session as it also allowed the staff to participate and build rapport with the patients. I really enjoyed this! Finally, I would go back to the office and write up all of my notes from the patient consultations so that other health professionals can be aware of what we have discussed.

I would then tend to go home, cook something quick because I was tired and then watch Netflix until I fell asleep!

I hope you find this useful and if you have any questions please feel free to comment. I really enjoyed this placement and would recommend it to anyone doing Dietetics as you learn communication skills that you probably wouldn’t learn anywhere else. So if you get allocated this placement welcome it with open arms! You may love it like I did.

How is Stage 2 Different from Stage 1?

By Caroline Elaine

Hello everyone, my name is Caroline, I am a BSc. Biomedical Sciences student. I have finally begun stage 2 of my course after spending a year in Newcastle adjusting to a new life, making new friends, and doing other bits and pieces. The seminars, lab practicals, and lectures have been ongoing for more than two months now.

So I figured it’d be a good time to evaluate the differences between stage 1 and stage 2. 

Continue reading “How is Stage 2 Different from Stage 1?”

Spending my summer break in labs in Thailand

By: Cornelia V. Genika BSc Biomedical Sciences

Hi! I am Cita, from Indonesia, and a stage 2 student of Biomedical Sciences, and here I would like to share my experience joining a 10-day science training program in Thailand during the summer break!

Over the summer I joined a science training program ran by Mahidol University in Thailand. I was introduced to this program by my friend, and I decided to join it as I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to develop the lab skills that I have gained throughout the first year and gain new scientific knowledge, meet new people, and build connections, as well as improve my CV.

Continue reading “Spending my summer break in labs in Thailand”