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Dr Adrian Heaps

Dr Adrian Heaps
Consultant Clinical Scientist in Immunology
Clinical Lead & Head of Service for Laboratory Immunology

Where do you work?

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust (Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle)
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (James Cook Hospital, Middlesbrough)

How many years have you been working in this sector?

I have worked in the NHS for 11 years (since 2006) having previously worked in academia and industry.

What do you like the most about your job?

I enjoy most aspects of my role but two things I gain particular enjoyment from are providing Immunology input to complex clinical cases and introducing new assays and systems into the laboratory.  I would also add that watching staff members you have trained and supervised succeed and progress in their careers is immensely satisfying.

What led you into your current role or career? 

I previously enjoyed working in basic immunology research at Imperial College. Although we studied human diseases the purpose of the research was to expand human understanding of Immunology and had little or no direct impact on patients.  I wanted to apply my scientific skills to a role that would have a direct, positive impact on patient diagnosis and management so becoming a clinical scientist seemed like a sensible career choice.

What does your current job role involve?

I am fortunate enough to have a very varied job that is both challenging and interesting; my role can be broadly divided into clinical, managerial & leadership, education and R&D. 

I am clinical lead for laboratory Immunology in both of the Trusts I currently work in; this role involves requesting, analysing and interpreting complex immunology laboratory tests for physicians as well as providing direct advice to hospital and primary care doctors via phone inquiries and clinical letters.  I provide regular Clinical Immunology input to a number of multi-disciplinary teams (MDT) in the hospital where challenging clinical cases are discussed. Immunology testing is involved in the work-up and monitoring of patients from a wide array of medical disciplines and we have links with Infectious Disease, Haematology, Rheumatology, Dermatology, Gastroenterology, Renal Medicine, Respiratory, Paediatrics and ENT medicine.

I am responsible for directing and managing two Immunology services with approximately 30 staff that perform over half a million tests per year. My key managerial responsibilities include involvement in staff recruitment and appraisal, budget expenditure and income generation, quality control, performance monitoring, formulating departmental policies and determining the overall strategic direction of the Immunology departments.

Service development is a major part of the role and I am responsible for selecting and appraising the repertoire of Immunology tests and analysers in the two departments. I also perform some of our more specialist laboratory assays for both clinical work and research (although laboratory bench work is now a relatively minor part of my role).  

Teaching is a significant part of the job and I provide CPD sessions and training in Immunology on a range of topics both within pathology (to medical consultants & scientists) and to other hospital departments. We are an accredited training centre for biomedical and clinical scientists in Immunology and I currently supervise Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) Immunology trainees and have previously been an STP supervisor for the National School of Health Care Sciences (NSHCS, the body who oversees the training of healthcare scientists nationally). 

My academic research role is smaller than some of my peers as I am not currently based in a large teaching hospital and my role is primarily clinical. However, I remain actively engaged in a number of research collaborations investigating primary immunodeficiency, allergy and immune mediated lung diseases which allows me to maintain a modest publication rate. I review for a number of international scientific Immunology journals and I have previously acted in an advisory role to the Association of Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB), the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) and NICE.  Research opportunities for Clinical Scientists in Immunology are broad and go beyond basic academic research:  These can include developing and translating new diagnostic Immunology assays into the clinical laboratory, clinical audit, writing case studies and collaborations with other specialties all of which can potentially lead to publications.

What are the career progression options in this sector?

There are a number of options for career progression as a clinical scientist in Immunology. The first step is to become an HCPC registered clinical scientist which is now achieved via the NSHCS Scientist Training Programme (STP) and takes 4 years (post graduate):

After obtaining HCPC registration a clinical scientist may decide to stay as a specialist clinical scientist in an NHS laboratory or embark on the higher specialist training scheme which includes the Royal College of Pathologist’s Clinical Immunology examinations and completing a doctorate (PhD, professional doctorate or equivalent). This is now achieved via the NSHCS HSST scheme which takes a further 5 years to complete (post HCPC):

After completing the HSST/RCPath qualifications further options for career progression are available including working as a Principal Scientist, Consultant Scientist, Head of Service or as a Regional Director of an Immunology laboratory network.

What are the most important skills and experiences that have got you where you are today? 

The qualifications and exams required to become a consultant in Immunology are both long and arduous, therefore relentless enthusiasm for the subject and plenty of persistence are absolutely essential. My clinical training was about as quick as it could be (9 years from starting in the NHS to becoming a consultant) and prior to that I had completed a 3 year BSc and 4 year PhD so commitment to the career is very important.

As for any scientific role an attention to detail and thoroughness are basic requirements. As you take on more senior managerial roles excellent communication, team-working and leadership skills become essential.

The NHS can be a very challenging environment within which to work and difficult decisions often have to be made: Like any senior managerial role a thick-skin, a bit of resilience and an ability to fight your own corner and not shy away from confrontation are all important to be a consultant.

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

Consultant careers in the NHS (both medical and scientific) require you to jump through many hoops (qualifications, examinations, registration portfolios etc) to achieve your goals.  If you are motivated to do this then a career as a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Immunology can be very rewarding: Just be aware that all of your peers will think you’re insane when you’re still sitting exams in your mid-thirties!