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Healthcare scientists at University Hospital Southampton - so much more than a lab coat

Web communications assistant Ash Hartridge meets our healthcare scientists ahead of Biomedical Science Day.

Healthcare scientists across the country make up a hidden workforce that help to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses using their knowledge of science and technical skills, but not all of them fit the stereotype of a lab coat and a microscope.

Over the last 70 years, the NHS has been using innovation to deliver patient care and save lives. From blood samples, IVF and radiotherapy; to critical care, audiology and specialist health information, the majority of us will cross paths with healthcare scientists and probably never know it.

“We all play a vital role in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a huge number of medical conditions,” says Jo Horne, lead healthcare scientist at University Hospital Southampton, who represents all four areas of the industry at the Trust.

Jo added: “Rapid advances in science and technology means that healthcare science is an exciting, challenging and rewarding field to work in. Today’s scientific advances and innovations will form the basis of tomorrow’s treatments, providing safer and more effective ways to diagnose and manage conditions.”

The field of life sciences is where you’ll find the majority of our laboratory staff, but you’ll also find energetic science teams at the front of patient care examining infertility and helping families grow.

In physical sciences and biomedical engineering, staff develop the ways which we monitor, diagnose and treat what happens in the body. In another area, our physiological scientists have direct contact with our patients. They use specialist equipment and advanced technologies to evaluate abnormalities and in some cases provide long-term management and care.

By far the youngest branch of them all, clinical bioinformatics is an area of healthcare science that connects computing, biology and medicine. Our bioinformatics trainee is working with multidisciplinary teams to design databases and online tools that will tackle complex problems in genetics and genomics.

In fact, many healthcare scientists have a lot more direct patient contact than you might think and even work alongside doctors and nurses in clinics and on wards. Yet with such a diverse industry, it can be hard for scientists to clearly define their roles within the wider healthcare science - especially in the short time they do have with patients.

“Working in radiotherapy, patient contact can be rare,” says Rachel Barlow, deputy head of radiotherapy physics. “When it occurs, they are usually asleep and unaware of our existence,” she added.

If you’ve ever had a sight or hearing test, had samples taken or had an x-ray you’ve probably met a healthcare scientist or at least seen one in the distance. In fact, if you’ve been into a hospital you might have mistaken a healthcare scientist for a nurse or a doctor - and that’s how they often get missed.

In 2016, NHS England made a significant push to attract senior healthcare scientists into leadership roles. To deliver the changes that NHS needs for the future, it has now focused health professionals on making better uses of technology, whilst supporting scientific research and innovation.

“As a profession, we need to raise our profile, celebrate and promote the incredible work that we do,” explains Jo. “There are lots of ways we are raising our profile, including visiting schools, running open days and sharing our successes on social media.”

Along with many others across the UK, healthcare scientists at University Hospital Southampton will be celebrating biomedical science day on Thursday, 19 July. All this week, we’re sharing information from across the key areas and thanking our scientists for all they do.

If you’d like to follow the official Twitter account for UHS healthcare scientists, search for @UHS_HCS and keep up to date with the latest news.