You have probably heard about the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), seen as one of the main professional options for science graduates wanting to work in healthcare. So is it one of the options for you to consider after you graduate, and if it is how best to prepare for a successful application? Here are some impressions from reading and talking about this career, but don’t forget to have a look at the more comprehensive official website as well – link at the end of the post.
Is this scheme the default option if I am taking a science degree and am interested in healthcare?
The short answer is no as the scheme is so competitive. In 2013 there were 8000 applicants for 300 places in the whole of the UK. Not all applicants are fresh out of an undergraduate degree either, which makes the competition even fiercer. However, if you think you would like to do lab and scientific analysis in a hospital or other clinical setting, working in a team with other scientists, doctors and nurses, and do not want a research career, then it might be very well worth finding out more and giving it a go!
Who is the scheme not for?
You will have noticed that I mentioned above that this is not a research career. If you want to discover the next new cancer gene, virus or metabolite, this is not the profession for you. This is a routine analysis role, where creativity and innovation can be best expressed by improving existing processes. The scheme is also not for people who would like a 9 to 5 job as continuous training and shift work is required. It is also not good as a plan B for a career such as medicine. You will probably need to do specific preparation to be a competitive applicant and remember that as the number of places are very few, the NHS interviewers will be looking for applicants who are really committed to the scheme as a professional choice.
It might be the very thing for me, how do I give it a go?
The first step is to try and confirm it is indeed a good option for you. During the application process and at interview you will be required to demonstrate knowledge of the profession anyway so you need to find out more about it. The two main routes are to write to labs asking to arrange a visit, and to go to one of the scheme’s open days. You might have an NHS clinical scientist visit the college – here at Queen Mary we have managed to arrange that for the last two years.
This is also the time to start thinking about which strand you will apply for. Some of them such as medical physics, bioinformatics or medical engineering are more clearly targeted at specific degrees, however if you are taking a biology-related degree you will probably have at least ten different options to choose from. Besides area of interest and practical experience, you should also ask about how competitive they are – for example for the immunology strand most successful applicants have a PhD.
The next step is to think about timelines. The deadline for applications for the scheme starting in the autumn of a particular year is usually January of that same year. So if you are aiming to get in the scheme as soon as you graduate, you need to start the application process in the autumn term of your final year.
And finally what do you need to have in place for a competitive application? Besides a good knowledge of the scheme as mentioned before, probably the main examples necessary are of good team work and communication skills. It is a common misconception that you need a lot of lab experience – as long as you can explain well the lab skills you developed during your degree those should be sufficient. Don’t let the fact that a lab summer internship might not be required make you complacent about extra-curricular work experience though – successful candidates have a lot of stuff on their CV besides their degree so you do need some extra-curricular activities besides your grades. But then this is the case for almost any graduate job or scheme nowadays!
You can find out more about the scheme here: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/healthcare-science/training/nhs-scientist-training-programme-(stp)/
And don’t forget you can get support with your CV, application and preparation for interview here at the Careers and Enterprise Centre.
Careers Consultant, Careers and Enterprise Centre