Hanna: NHS Scientist Training Programme

Hanna is a Trainee Genetic Counsellor on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). She is currently studying for an MSc in Clinical Science (Genomic Counselling) at The University of Manchester as part of the scheme.

Did you always know you wanted to work in this sector?

I heard of the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) when I was doing my postgraduate degree! When I investigated further, I found it was a funded training programme by the National School of Healthcare Scientists, training scientific graduates for specialist healthcare professional roles within the NHS. They offered training in Genetic Counselling, which I was interested in. It is fully funded, grants you a postgraduate degree alongside and the opportunity work directly with patients or better the outcome/experience of patients.

What is the structure of the scheme?

The STP is a three-year graduate training scheme with more than 30 specialisms including Genetic Counselling, Medical Physics, Critical Care Science and Immunology. It is predominantly work based, at an NHS hospital. Alongside the clinical work, we also complete a part time MSc in Clinical Science. All of the academic work is taught onsite with the associated university so that may mean trainees have to travel or obtain accommodation for a brief period to complete this. However, this year due to the pandemic all of the lectures and workshops were online.

In the first year each trainee completes external rotations in areas associated with their specialism. For example I completed training in Bioinformatics, Genomics and Reproductive Medicine. These departments were all based in my 'Home' hospital. However for some specialisms, trainees may have to travel or relocate briefly for a rotation. Then, for the remaining two years, we are based at our home department and train in our specialism.

What does a normal day look like in your current role / placement?

I work as part of a Clinical Genetics team with Consultant Geneticists, Specialist Registrars, Genetic Counsellors, Clinical Geneticists, Researchers and Genetic Technologists. Currently I am training in clinical consultations with patients, identifying inheritance patterns of genetic condition, calculating genetic risk, investigating family histories of conditions, arranging genetic testing, supporting the wellbeing of patients and taking part in multidisciplinary team meetings.

I have enjoyed the external rotations completed in my first year as this provided me with a good basis of the associated areas of genetic counselling. This has allowed me to offer a greater insight to patients and understand the processes involved in genetic testing. I also really like interacting with patients and throughout the training, I will be building up the clinical processes.

I was surprised by how intricate the processes and criteria are in healthcare and genetics. It is essential every protocol is followed, and patients receive an equal and excellent level of service and care. All the staff have a common goal; that the patient is at the centre of everything we do and consider how each step of the work will impact them. It is lovely to be part of offering support to those with a genetic condition, at risk of developing one or passing to their families.

Would you recommend this graduate scheme for current students / recent graduates?

I would without a doubt recommend the STP to others interested in a career in healthcare. It is a brilliant scheme, which offers funded training, and after completion, trainees are eligible to gain Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration.

The scheme offers a hands-on approach to training and once registered there are progression and personal development opportunities within your specialist area. Each specialism is unique and offers a variety of work, some are more patient facing than others and that itself keeps things varied!

What was the application and assessment process like?

The STP application process is a long one! The applications usually open in December and the deadline for submission is generally late December/early January (but this does vary year on year, so make sure to do your own research). Then all applicants complete online assessments and aptitude tests. Successful applicants are then shortlisted, whereby their application is reviewed.

Applicants are then ranked based on their chosen specialism and location preferences. Successful applicants are invited to an assessment centre and interview day, and this usually takes place in Birmingham around springtime. I went through this application process during the pandemic, so the interview day was adapted – instead clinicians from my chosen location interviewed me via video and I was offered my place in June.

I prepared by looking further into the NHS values and constitution, how my experience related and how I can improve patient service and care.

Do you have any advice for final year students going through the recruitment process?

My advice would include focusing and putting a lot of effort into your written application as this is the initial impression the reviewers will see. Take it as an opportunity to show the extent of your skills, knowledge, and relevant experience. For a career in healthcare, experience working with members of the public is essential; ideally in a caring capacity, so if you are interested in the STP I recommend getting involved in your community or volunteering for a charity.

What are your plans for the future?

As I am in my first year of the STP, I still have two more years to complete and transition from a pre-registered Genetic Counsellor to a registered Genetic Counsellor! This also includes completing the associated MSc and research project.

Once registered I will be responsible for my workload including patients and clinics and move into a specialised area of Genetic Counselling which may be Cardiac, Ophthalmology, Cancer, Developmental Delay, Prenatal or Neuropsychological/Neuromuscular.

The STP has given me the opportunity to develop my scientific career in Genomic Counselling and combine my two passions of biology and psychology.