Bob – Specialist practitioner in cellular pathology

Are you interested in what goes on inside the body and when? Do you want to test your knowledge and skills to solve problems? Are you interested in research and pathology? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions then this could be the career for you!

What attracted you to this job?

Initially I wanted to be a Doctor, but then I found out how interesting Pathology was. This didn’t help as I decided I wanted to play with microscopes and understand what exactly went on inside the body and when it went on. I was lucky enough to discover a career where I could do that as well as research, teach and practice all in the same job while still having time to pursue my other interests.

What does your typical day involve?

We start early and depending on what area of the Lab I’m assigned to depends on what the day brings. Sometimes it’s the humdrum, but sometimes I get to throw myself into the real fiddly time consuming assays I love to get on with and make work first time!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

‘First time right!’ I’ve learnt the hard way that making mistakes is costly to my time and others helping me set things right again, not to mention the knock on effects my mistakes may have. But I really love the feeling I get when I can put my understanding and skill to the test and get the result that’s best for everyone, nothing compares!

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My family is really supportive, but asks me not to talk about work over dinner… I don’t know where I get my strong stomach from. My friends are always interested in what I do and I get questions about different aspects… or I’m asked to stop talking about it as I can go on a bit!

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

Usually I have a great balance between work and home life. I start early but also therefore finish early(ish). If I have teaching commitments, overtime, study or research to do I’m normally home at a good hour. As I sing with various choirs and groups too I still get the time I need to do all of that, as well as spend time with family, friends and do the things I want to do. I sometimes have busy weekends planned which have nothing to do with work or study and I love the thought that the two don’t generally mix, unless it’s a work night out and we leave ‘shop’ at the door!

How did you get to where you are today?

I guess I was in the right place for a lot of the time. After my first degree I looked around for jobs. I applied to many and was turned down for many. I eventually sent my CV around and I had a call asking me to come in and talk. I was offered a post, part time as a lab aid, doing the grot jobs and helping where I could. I was just excited to be in a lab. After 6 months, funding was found and I began the process of getting on the register. A year after that I qualified and I was accepted onto the register as a Biomedical Scientist. I worked hard at getting to know every part of my new role as well as helping with the old. I received funding to start the training programme to become a Specialist Practitioner in Cellular Pathology. Years of toil and a rocky patch towards the end I re-qualified as a Specialist last year. I’m now waiting to start a masters this year to further progress in my area.

In addition to all of this, I’ve conducted research in many areas, including neuropathology, molecular techniques, medical imaging, new technologies and techniques. I’ve conducted beta testing for a large medical innovations group, presented work at conferences, road shows and symposia. I’ve attended conferences in and out of the country and met and worked with extraordinary people.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

  • Take every opportunity you can;
  • Understand why you do something, don’t just know how to do it;
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they can be helpful;
  • Listen to the voice of experience and work with everyone even if you don’t see eye to eye;
  • Step up to a challenge, and try your hardest.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

I work for the NHS, but don’t let that put you off! I take home a good wage. I have a mortgage and a car and I go on holiday and get to do what I want, even with a student debt. Most people start on about £21K and if you achieve the highest possible post (consultant practitioner) you can earn upwards of £80K.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I sing with different choirs, I love performing and concerts, working with people passionate in that makes me happy. I love to eat out, cook, read and go to the cinema. Seeing friends and being silly, messing about like kids at times is good. Family, I see them as often as I can and enjoy holidays with them.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Ha ha ha ha… I have a habit of yelling things down corridors or across rooms which is fine in context, but as standalone comments can be taken the wrong way. One that sticks in my mind is while talking to a colleague about Private patient cases I was then asked to communicate this to another colleague who I could just see at the other end of the lab; so I yelled to my other college “do you want to come and look at my privates”, and as always everyone was silent for this and everyone heard. I could have died!