Charles Ross explains how knowledge of the work place is just as valuable as the knowledge you gain from your degree…
What does your job entail?
I currently work in the Pharmaceutical production unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary as a Senior Assistant Technical Officer (SATO). In my role, I assist in the day to day work of the production unit and help to produce medicines. This involves ensuring products are produced to a consistent high quality to standards set out by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency(MHRA). I am currently still in training so I mainly perform “lab assistant” roles until I am validated. Then I will be able to perform more technical tasks.
What educational and career steps did you take to lead you to this career?
It was quite straight forward really. I attended the University of Plymouth where I studied Biomedical Science. I chose to study ‘biomed’ because it covered topics which interested me and still allowed for a wide range of career opportunities.
Why did you choose this career path?
With any career in biomedicine, lab experience is essential. I always knew I wanted to work for local NHS trust and in order to get into higher roles within this industry, research experience is required. My main interest within human biology is the application of pharmaceuticals, particularly in eradicating infections and how microorganisms interact with the immune system. This is why I chose to investigate the issue of antibiotic resistance in my dissertation, a subject I am personally passionate about. Therefore, my job builds on this nicely.
What do you like about your job?
I find the day to day work very interesting as a whole and particularly enjoy working in a laboratory environment. Plus it offers great training opportunities. In general, the NHS is a well rounded source of employment.
Are there any downsides to your job?
NHS pay! There has been a lot of news coverage over the last few months, particularly linked to pay. Some NHS employees feel they are underpaid for the work they carry out. However, the pension scheme helps to remedy this.
Describe a typical work day for you?
My duties include undertaking regular environmental monitoring, such as the use of particles, monitors or settle plates. This ensures products are produced to a consistently high quality and patient safety is ensured. I set up raw materials for individual batches of drugs to be manufactured by qualified personnel in clean rooms. My role also includes maintaining records and documentation of activities within the unit, to ensure any production activity has a clear and accessible audit trail. I maintain stock levels, which keeps the production unit supplied for the technicians and pharmacists.
Regular training and validations are provided to ensure my techniques are up to standard, and that I follow the procedures correctly.
Alongside my SATO role, I am additionally undertaking several IT based projects. I am covering paternity leave to implement changes enforced by MHRA standards following 2014’s inspection. These projects are giving me vital experience in the IT systems used to support the hospitals pharmaceutical manufacturing. I am still undertaking training to gain validation to produce aseptic pharmaceuticals and undertake more technical aspects of this role
Do you have any tips for students aspiring to go into the same career?
For any clinical, pharmaceutical or research career, relevant experience is paramount, most universities offer a year in industry and summer placements.
Not taking these opportunities makes it a lot harder to find work in these areas as it’s very expensive to train people. Employers are much more likely to consider you with relevant work experience. I cannot stress this enough.
Did you consider any other careers while in your final year at university?
I looked at biomedical scientist training programmes but didn’t get good enough grades. This route is very competitive and difficult to get onto. I also looked into clinical research as a career possibility, but this requires high levels of experience and contacts from university.
What advice would you give your student self with hindsight?
If you have the opportunity to do a placement year, do it. Take any experience your university offers. The best way to approach this is to talk to tutors about possibilities where you could speak to someone who works in industry. Getting the right contacts is key. Find out about the current research being done at your university. Think about what interests you. If you wanted to go into a research job, getting a job with the NHS can really help get you there.