The Big Picture
Following completion of the MPhys in Physics with medical physics at the University of Sheffield Jothi started as a Trainee Healthcare Scientist (Medical Physics) in Imaging with Non-Ionising Radiation on the Scientist Training Programme. The 3-year programme provides on the job training alongside academic work leading to a Masters.
As well as getting to use really cool bits of equipment Jothi shares other reasons for enjoying the Programme: “I think what I liked about it is that there’s application of physics so it’s very, like, practical. It’s applying physics to real world situations. It’s helping people which I really like. There’s not many opportunities for physicists to work in the public sector so I really like that too, and the opportunity to work with different health care professionals, so doctors, radiographers, those different people.”
This type of career path is what actually attracted Jothi to do a physics degree in the first place; “I was going to university open days when I was in sixth form, and I heard about medical physics and then kind of looked into what the career would be if I did the degree with medical physics” Jothi recommends the National School of Healthcare Science website for further information. The journey through her degree also gave Jothi a chance for reflection… “I went sort of on and off it, but as part of my course at Sheffield we did a clinical placement in the physics department in the Sheffield hospitals and I really enjoyed that, so that kind of sealed the deal for me that this is what I wanted to do.” But equally… “at the same time I knew a lot of people that didn’t really know what they wanted to do, and that’s okay!”
The Application Process
Jothi applied for the training programme in the January to start in the following September. Following an online application process covering things like the NHS values and online judgement tests Jothi then, due to COVID, had an online interview.
“It’s not just medical physics, there’s probably like 20 or so other specialisms that are included in the scientist training programme such as bio-medical sciences and physiological sciences and things like that as well as the physical sciences. It’s quite a complex application process, so it’s hard, you have to stay engaged with it for quite a few months. I think having a bit of medical physics background helped me out but if people don’t have that it shouldn’t put them off because I have lots of colleagues that didn’t do any medical physics at Uni and managed to get onto the scheme.”
Although there are places on the programme all around the country Jothi explains that you don’t always get to choose exactly where you are offered a place; “So, I think if you are really committed to doing the job you kind of have to be prepared to move around the country a little bit.”
“We bring together expert staff, high-quality care and excellence in research to drive forward the development of new leading edge drugs and therapies, and provide outstanding specialist care for patients.” The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre
Although there are different routes to becoming a clinical scientist Jothi explains; “The Scientists Training Programme is the main sort of graduate training scheme. So, I’m doing that in imaging with non-ionising radiation which is basically MRI physics and ultrasound physics.”
The Learning Curve
Although the training programme is a big commitment of three more years of training and studying the role was pretty much as Jothi imagined it to be with a good mix of on-the-job training and practical work. “There’s probably a bit more writing than I expected, but I don’t mind doing that. I’ve got quite good at writing up the kind of reports that they want!”
The Scientist Training Programme is effectively a hybrid of working and studying and Jothi explains: “It was quite easy to slip into following my degree because you kind of carry on with the same style of work, but also getting a bit more experience of the real world.” However, Jothi also acknowledged it can be stressful at times, like at Uni, with deadlines to meet. “But on the whole, it’s fun and a really interesting job.”
Day to Day
In terms of the ‘work’ side of the role; “I might be observing MRI scans, Ultrasound scans, shadowing sort of qualified physicists, seeing what they do, learning about their job. We do work with the equipment such as quality assurance, so doing tests on all the machines, making sure they’re working properly.”
And as part of the work-based training, “write up a lot of reports on what you’ve done. You have loads of competencies that you have to tick off over the course of 3 years and you have to have evidence for all of those. So maybe doing some reading around a topic, discussing it with your colleagues, and then kind of writing that up into a report.” The MSc work is part of the role, so you don’t have to study outside of working hours.
The Physics Connection
Jothi’s found that she’s applied a lot of what she did in her degree into her role and had built up a lot of transferable skills; “Although the physics isn’t necessarily as high level and technical as a lot of what I did in my degree you definitely need that physics background. So, anything around radiation physics and electromagnetism, especially for MRI. Anything about nuclear magnetic resonance – I did a module on that at Uni. And loads of other skills, so stuff that I did in my physics degree, like lab skills, knowing how to do practical work safely, how to collect data, present data in a scientific way. I learnt how to do like Matlab and Python coding at Uni and I use that quite a lot in my job now. I did quite a lot of medical physics in my degree and I apply that stuff all the time too. Everything I did at Uni has probably contributed in some way!”
When asked what advice Jothi would give her former self: “Keep really good notes and records of anything you’ve done practically, anything you’ve seen! You never know when you might find them useful”.
And on a lighter note; ”Just enjoy yourself! So just find ways to make the work you’ve got to do kind of interesting, for example if you are the kind of person that enjoys more verbal discussions find people to talk through stuff with, and so make things sort of work for you, and in a way that you’ll enjoy them more.”
As Jothi was nearing completion of the Programme she started applying for follow on roles and has been successful in getting an MRI Physicist role at the Royal Marden in London.
“I’ve had a lot of interviews and managed to get one of them! But I had rejections as well. I think the most useful thing is, if you get rejected for a job ask the people for a bit of feedback because most places are willing to help and you can really learn from that, and then apply that to your next interview.”
Placements and experience can also really help; “My placement was really useful for writing my application and in the interview, because I actually had some experience about what the job actually entails. So probably a really good thing to do is trying to get some real clinical experience.”
The Next Step
Does Jothi see this as her long-term career path? “Yeah, I really enjoy it so far! Hopefully I enjoy my first qualified role! So, yeah, I definitely think this is a long-term career for me, fingers crossed!”