In this Opinion feature, Sheri Scott, senior lecturer and course leader for the IBMS-accredited BSc Applied Biomedical Science at Nottingham Trent University, gives her views.
The last two years have seen reactive changes in undergraduate Higher Education Institution (HEI) course delivery with adaption to online learning, tackling deficits in practical skills and maintaining course currency with evolving disciplines of biomedical science. The HEIs have responded to the challenges faced, adapted to new ways of working and teaching, and continued to produce graduates in line with sector needs.
The aims of biomedical science accredited courses are to produce graduates with the knowledge and skills to become quality driven future biomedical scientists. It is with this mindset, that each institution needs to consider the key essential skills and knowledge required not only to meet HCPC requirements but beyond by considering the skills required to prepare students for their future career development.
In the last year alone, we have seen a revitalised IBMS strategy and updated HCPC standards; in the next six months we can expect to see new QAA benchmarks and a new L6 Biomedical Scientist apprenticeship standard (replacing the L6 Healthcare Scientist Practitioner for IBMS accredited applied apprenticeship courses). As education providers, we need to stay ahead of these changes but also be mindful of the wider picture. We need to be aware of sector changes, current government policies and wider concerns that can influence the professional lives of our students and the pathology workforce.
I am in a unique position to directly impact the education of the pathology workforce at all grades. As lecturer I have the responsibility to ensure that future biomedical scientists are informed, resilient and fit for practice, and, as a post-registration trainer and assessor, I have a responsibility to ensure this quality is maintained by supplying quality driven opportunities for continued professional development for our current and future trainers and leaders.
One of the key successes of the pre-registration training and education in the last five years is the development and delivery of the L6 Healthcare Science Practitioner apprenticeship. The launch of this standard in 2017 provided support grades with an affordable route to registration as biomedical scientists. Although not fully utilised across all clinical laboratories, those that have taken on apprentices are reaping the benefits. Apprenticeships provide home-grown graduates who know the laboratory, the role and the requirements of the profession upon graduation often with 3–4 years of experience upon HCPC registration. They are means for departments to build their future workforce consisting of dedicated individuals who have demonstrated resilience, perseverance and ambition.
An apprenticeship course fosters closer ties between the employer and the HEI, often providing increased training opportunities for the trainers, increased CPD opportunities for the lecturers, and extends to benefit the students on associated full-time and sandwich courses offered by the HEI. The new Biomedical Scientist standard will bring benefits to the trainers, trainees and education providers, and I would personally like to see apprenticeship opportunities extended beyond registration with the development of an L7 apprenticeship to support career progression.
This year has seen a review of the HCPC biomedical scientist standards of proficiency. One of the main changes is the inclusion of mental health and wellbeing into the standards. This amendment reflects the growing awareness of the stress and strain faced by practising healthcare professionals. The workload of pathology services is increasing and despite the increasing number of biomedical and healthcare science graduates, pathology laboratories are facing increasing staff shortages, whether through increased staff illness or retention issues. The consequences of the pandemic in combination with funding shortages and service reconfiguration have all contributed to an increased incidence of workforce burnout. The new HCPC standard will ensure that trainees will be able to identify anxiety and stress, and develop coping strategies.
Sustainability is a key consideration for course development and for professional bodies. Education for Sustainability (ESD) is expected to feature in the new Biomedical Science QAA benchmarks along with EDI and bioinformatics. “ESD empowers learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society”. As an education provider, we recognise that ESD is a lifelong learning process and an integral part of quality education, and as such will become a fundamental skill for employability for future graduates.
With the role-out of pathology transformation that includes digitalised pathology services, there is increasing demand for IT/digital skills in the pathology workforce, including an increased demand for UKAS assessors with this area of expertise. Additionally, with the development of networks and the pathology workforce requiring standardised training across multiple sites, educators and trainers are seeking CPD in online learning technologies. Career development of biomedical scientists includes leadership, POCT, quality management as well as training. We need to ensure any postgraduate qualifications and short courses meet the education and skill requirements of these subspecialties.
As pathology education providers, I feel we have a responsibility to facilitate the delivery of the new IBMS strategy. As profession that practices often behind the scenes, we need a means to demonstrate the fundamental role pathology plays in the patient pathway, emphasising and showcasing the need for our stringent education and quality standards. HEIs can support this by providing education and CPD to support publication of undergraduate and postgraduate research projects.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the role the HCPC-registered professional should play in the delivery/development of IBMS-accredited courses. For our students to fully appreciate the knowledge and skills required of a registered biomedical scientist, courses need the strategic and developmental input from those who have experience in the role themselves; it is through this that we can truly ensure the quality workforce for tomorrow.
About Sheri Scott
Sheri Scott is a Senior Lecturer and course leader for the IBMS-accredited BSc Applied Biomedical Science at Nottingham Trent University. She joined academia in January 2018 after a 22-year career in clinical biochemistry. As an HCPC-registered Biomedical Scientist and Chartered Scientist, Sheri is an advocate for continual professional development and champions for sustainability. As part of her academic and professional practice roles, she leads on the delivery of pre- and post-registration training, assessment and qualifications on behalf of the university and the IBMS.