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Christina Ross

Christina Ross
Biomedical scientist, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

What does your current job role involve?

I aid in the diagnosis and monitoring of any condition which is caused by a failure or dysregulation of the immune system. These conditions range from primary immunodeficiency, HIV, malignancy, allergy, vasculitis, connective tissue disease and numerous other autoimmune conditions, including coeliac disease. In our lab, we carry out both adult and paediatric immunology testing.

The tests we perform cover a range of test platforms from flow cytometry, enzyme immunoassay and indirect immunofluorescence, to protein measurement and electrophoresis. As these techniques are very different it means that our job is varied and, unlike some laboratory disciplines, is not solely automated, giving us the opportunity to still do what we call ‘proper science’.

The testing mechanisms we use vary widely; this means my day can consist of analysing various cell types using a flow cytometer, to looking at tissue immunofluorescence down a microscope, or looking at serum immunofixation on a patient suspected of having multiple myeloma.

What do you like the most about your job?

The main reason I enjoy working in clinical immunology, compared with any other lab specialty, is because we see the sample to an end point to provide the clinician with a complete answer to why they are testing the patient. A lot of our tests are screening tests, followed on by further testing, to give the clinician an aid in the diagnosis of the patient’s condition.

Typically, no immunology laboratory is the same; depending on which site the laboratory is on, they may all provide different services. There tend to be larger laboratories, based in teaching hospitals, which cover a full range of testing. But there are also smaller satellite labs – usually situated in district general hospitals, which may only cover screening tests that are then sent to a referral laboratory (if required) for further analysis.

What does the training for biomedical scientists involve?

To become a biomedical scientist, we need to be educated to degree level and must be registered with the HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council), which checks that we are fit to practice as health professionals. There are various further education pathways that we can take after registration. This can include an MSc in biomedical science and the specialist and higher specialist diplomas in immunology, which are under the remit of the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS). All of these qualifications require a high standard of expertise in laboratory testing and an in depth knowledge of the specialty.

We are obliged to participate in continuous professional development throughout our career in order that we keep up to date in our skills and knowledge to reassure the public that we can perform our job to the highest standard. As we can be audited by the HCPC randomly, we have to be able to provide them with a portfolio of evidence to show that we can perform our role at the appropriate level.

Our laboratories are regularly assessed by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) which specifies requirements for quality and competence in medical laboratories. 

Every day, no matter what technique we may be doing, we are obliged to make sure that every test platform we use is properly and safely controlled to ensure that the results we give to clinicians are accurate and pose no risk to the patient. This means that we participate in both internal and external quality control procedures. If issues arise from either of these we then use our skills to find out the source of the problem and to correct it so that our tests remain of the highest quality. 

What are the career progression options in this role?

Scotland can vary from England in terms of career progression. In Scotland a basic biomedical scientist would come in at band 6 on the Agenda for Change pay scale. After that to progress to a senior role they would require to complete an MSc in Biomedical Science. From then on it is a matter of experience & the addition of various training portfolios through the Institute of Biomedical Science to progress to a management role.

Any tips or advice you would give to someone thinking of going into this type of career?

The most important bit of advice I could give is to make sure that you have an accredited degree with the Institute of Biomedical Science to enter the profession. If you have a science degree which is not accredited, the Institute will require you to do top up modules. They can assess your degree for the shortfall although this can be expensive.