Blizard Institute - Barts and The London

Student blogs: Volunteering in the fight against COVID-19

We're incredibily proud of all our staff and students who are working or volunteering on the front line or behind the scenes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our postgraduate students have taken time from their studies and are currently working within the NHS, Public Health Wales and the ambulance service. Here we are highlighting the work of some of our students on the MSc Biomedical Science (Medical Microbiology) and MSc Clinical Science (Infection Science) programmes.

21 May 2020

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Postgraduate student Matt Jones and colleague in the London Ambulance Service

Matt Jones – Full-time Postgraduate Student, MSc Biomedical Sciences (Medical Microbiology)

St John Ambulance Emergency Ambulance Crew

We’re currently into the ninth week of supporting the London Ambulance Service. At the beginning, things were incredibly busy with barely any time between calls to catch a breath – now, however, things are a lot calmer and we’re beginning to see more ‘business as usual’ calls being sent down to us. It’s been an incredible learning curve – not just with the new, unknown, threat of COVID-19, but also with our way of working as ambulance crews. We’ve had to learn new methods of communicating with our patients as most of our face is now covered by some form of mask. We’ve had to become highly adaptable to procedural changes as new evidence rapidly overwrites old guidance. Most importantly, however, we’ve had to learn to depend on each other more than ever. During COVID-19 it’s been fantastic to feel a part of a much bigger team, all pulling together in extraordinary circumstances to achieve the unbelievable.

Postgraduate student Benjamin Johns at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre
Postgraduate student Benjamin Johns at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre

Benjamin Johns – Part-time Postgraduate Student, Second-Year MSc Clinical Science (Infection Science)

Trainee Clinical Scientist for Public Health Wales

I am currently working at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre (WSVC) in the University Hospital of Wales. WSVC tests samples for SARS-CoV-2 (the causative agent of COVID-19) from right across Wales. Over the past few weeks I have seen the importance of good teamwork and leadership. We have had to remain dynamic in the use of a range of nucleic acid extraction and PCR platforms to ensure that we can continue to meet the growing demand for testing across the country. Although our training has had to take a back-seat for a few weeks, it is important to recognise that while the portfolio will develop our scientific skills for ‘tomorrow’, the Service requires those skills which we already have from our previous academic and work-based training in order to deliver the best possible service to our communities ‘today’.

Postgraduate student Benjamin Johns and colleague at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre
Postgraduate student Benjamin Johns and colleague at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre

I work within a team of around 30 biomedical scientists, medical laboratory assistants, clinical scientists (including consultant grade) and consultant virologists (physicians). Together, we receive samples from across the country – both inpatients and community testing clinics. First, we transfer the dry swabs into lysis buffer before extracting on one of the many platforms available for our use. Once this is done, molecular testing is used to ascertain whether the virus can be detected on the swab by interpretation of the amplification charts. We also detect RNase P as a marker of human cellular material (to ensure that the swab has been taken properly and to avoid false negative results).

I am proud to be able to support the delivery of this service and it’s great to see Wales leading the way! 

Amy State – Part-Time Postgraduate Student, Third-Year MSc Clinical Science (Infection Science)

Clinical Scientist, Sheffield

As a final-year Scientist Training Programme (STP) student I obviously expected that my career would change over the next few months or years, however I don’t think anyone could have imagined just how much things could/would change since those first reports from China of a novel Coronavirus back in December 2019. To prepare for my future role as a clinical scientist and to gain some clinical experience before the Objective Structured Final Assessments (OSFAs) I started working closely with the virology medic team in November 2019, ringing out positive Flu results to wards and giving them infection prevention and control advice to avoid/manage outbreaks. Fast forward to early March 2020 and I now find myself in the thick of all things COVID-19. I am working as a registered clinical scientist after being put on the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) temporary register which involves me giving clinical advice, telephoning positive results to the wards and even providing on-call virology services to provide some resilience to the virology service in Sheffield. Some of my tasks have involved developing algorithms for dealing with positive COVID-19 patients that have been disseminated to clinical areas around the Trust, and I have also been helping to provide a testing and resulting service for the Trust, and the wider healthcare community, staff screening programme. On top of all this I am a mum to my six year old son, and to ensure my family’s safety, my parents have moved into our house to provide childcare to enable me and my husband to continue to work. Some days are mentally and emotionally tough, as I can be sat at my desk for hours authorising results and ringing fellow healthcare professionals giving them the news that they have tested positive and providing them reassurance where possible. COVID-19 has taught me a lot about myself and the clinical scientist that I aim to be. The kindness shown by everyone in these unprecedented times throughout my Trust reminds me of why I came into healthcare and together we can get through this.

Stay safe.

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