Guest Blog by Dr Claire Walker: Is there a place for Simulated Placement in Biomedical Science Education?

Well, it finally happened, on the third anniversary of lockdown I got faint lines on my SARS CoV2 lateral flow test and my first infection. I’m currently sofa bound and feel like I’ve been hit by a truck and the ever wonderful Dr Walker has stepped in and written me a post so you were not left hanging for a second week without your Girlymicro fix.

Dr Walker is a paid up member of the Dream Team since 2013, token immunologist and occasional defector from the Immunology Mafia. Registered Clinical Scientist in Immunology with a background in genetics (PhD), microbiology and immunology (MSc), biological sciences (mBiolSci), education (PgCert) and indecisiveness (everything else). Now a Senior Lecturer in Immunology at University of Lincoln. She has previously written many great guest blogs for The Girlymicrobiologist, including one on the transition from lab to academia.

Op-Ed. Is there a place for Simulated Placement in Biomedical Science Education?

Hi all, it’s me again, banging the drum for getting students to come and complete an IBMS accredited degree, to get their portfolios and to become members of the NHS pathology workforce. I left my position in clinical pathology and research to come and teach on an accredited degree course to get bums on seats in the NHS – but specifically the best, most talented bums on the best seats in the house. I wanted to inspire the most able, talented students to come and work in the greatest profession around. And to top that off, in the most interesting of all the disciplines, you know, Immunology (Sorry @Girlymicro but it’s clearly superior). All opinions in this blog are very much my own. 

As some of you will know students studying an iBMS accredited degree typically engage in a 39 week generally unpaid placement in a clinical laboratory to collate a portfolio of evidence sufficient to gain Health and Care Professional (HCPC) Registration on completion of their degree. This lets them apply to jobs as a registered Biomedical Scientist when their degree is complete. Sadly, this placement is completed only by a minority of students for a variety of different reasons. There are significant challenges in the implementation and supporting of clinical placements. One only has to consider the high clinical workloads in pathology, especially post-COVID, the increasing complexity of equipment and techniques, as well as the high demand for placements from students which many labs simply lack time and capacity to support. Particularly as there is no guarantee that a student will return to the training lab to work full time at the end of the degree. Put simply, it’s a lot of effort for no guarantee of reward for the lab’s investment. It doesn’t feel like a very sustainable system, and we need innovative solutions.

And the team at Staffordshire University have got them in spades. I was extremely fortunate to attend an ideation event at the Staffordshire Uni on ‘The Role of Simulated and Alternative Placement in Evidencing Standards of Proficiency for Biomedical Scientists’ hosted by Ian Davies and Aimee Pinnington. I was absolutely bowled over by the work they are putting into developing an authentic clinical experience in their biomedical science degree programmes. It’s not hurt by their great links with local hospitals, the fact they both have extensive experience in the NHS as HCPC reg scientists, and their obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter.

Clinical simulation is an exciting component of healthcare education which to date has largely been overlooked in the training of our biomedical scientist workforce. Simulation is a well-established method that allows learners to practice in a controlled environment with no risk of harm to patients. In many healthcare professions, simulation-based activities are used as discrete learning opportunities throughout the curricula as part of academic modules but perhaps there is a need to do more to integrate this learning to create a more authentic learning experience. There is much enthusiasm amongst those of us walking the clinical/academic line as HCPC registered Senior Lecturers to do more to support our students to get their registration. The ideation event at Staffordshire University gave us the opportunity to discuss different options to embed skills and behaviours within the University experience. Overall, I felt that this was not with the aim of replacing a traditional laboratory placement, but rather to find tools to support routes to registration and really consolidating the value of the student placement experience. I feel we need to work out exactly what students get from their time, and if any of this can be done in the University environment to reduce pressure on the pathology laboratories.

Meme from Biomedical Sciences day – what does a biomedical scientist do? Created by the haematology team at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals

I came to this meeting not really knowing what to expect, and feeling that nothing could really replace the unique and essential experience of working for a full year in the clinical lab. And I walked away from this meeting excited and brimming with ideas to put into practice on my own immunology course. I’ve no interest in getting rid of placements entirely but I do think the University needs to do more to get students ready for practice, and that as a profession we need to shake off some cobwebs and look at what we can do to enhance recruitment. After all, I left a much beloved research career to get the most talented bums on the most important seats in pathology.

TL:DR What do we want? Simulated and alternative placements to be introduced to accredited degrees. When do we want it? When they have been properly devised to replicated an authentic placement experience ideally by HCPC registered healthcare scientists collaborating with University staff (who may or may not be the same people!).

All opinions in this blog are my own

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