Meet the Expert: clinical biochemist James and bioengineer Andy

Meet the Expert is a live video session run by My World of Work, where experts discuss their roles and offer tips to young people considering a similar career. In the session, young people can ask questions and gain insight into the expert’s work.

NHSScotland healthcare scientists James, a clinical biochemist, and Andy, a bioengineer, spoke about their work at a recent session.

As a clinical biochemist, James diagnoses and monitors diseases by analysing blood, urine, sweat and other bodily fluids.

In Andy’s role as a bioengineer, he assesses people so that he can design and build comfortable wheelchairs for their unique needs.

James’s journey to becoming a clinical biochemist

James begins by explaining a bit about his work. He gets sent lots of different kinds of fluid samples from doctors or nurses. He then processes them on specialist equipment, so that he can provide his NHS colleagues with the results for the patient.

He has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences. James says you need a degree to becoming an NHS clinical scientist. After your degree, you can then complete a 3-year training programme, called the Scientist Training Programme, which prepares you for the role of clinical biochemist. As part of the training programme, you’ll learn on the job while also doing a MSc.

Find out more about becoming a biomedical scientist.

Andy’s journey to becoming a bioengineer

Andy works as a bioengineer at the West of Scotland Mobility and Rehabilitation Centre (WestMARC). He’s part of a team of 14 bioengineers and works closely with a team of occupational therapists. WestMARC caters for over 50,000 wheelchair users in the West of Scotland.

In his job, Andy assesses patients who need a bit more support while sitting in their wheelchair. His tasks are totally dependent on what the patient needs. It could be as simple as buying a component to add to a typical wheelchair or he may have to cast a patient to make a completing bespoke wheelchair.

Andy sees himself as a bit of a wheelchair detective! That’s because if any of his patients have an accident, he must examine what happened, decide what is at fault with the wheelchair and adjust it accordingly.

Andy explains that the route into his current role wasn’t typical. He loved Maths, Physics and Music at school, so decided to study Electronics Engineering with Music at the University of Glasgow. He says he wasn’t too sure what he wanted to do when he left school. At the end of his degree, he did some research with one of his lecturers at a hospital spinal unit. He loved working with patients but didn’t really enjoy the research. He decided to pursue a more patient-focused role, which is when he saw a job for a trainee bioengineer at WestMARC.

Andy’s now been working as a bioengineer for nearly 10 years.

Find out more about getting a role like Andy’s and becoming a clinical scientist in physical sciences.

Audience questions

Andy and James answered lots of great questions from school pupils.

One student asked what the most important skills are for healthcare scientists.

Andy and James agreed that communication is an important skill for healthcare scientists. Andy explained that some people in wheelchairs might have communication difficulties, so you need to have great listening skills. James says that communication with other staff in the laboratory is important so that tests are completed correctly. Communicating with the healthcare professionals who order the tests is also key to doing his job well. As a clinical biochemist, you need to make sure the advice you give is clear and there’s no confusion about the results.

You find out about useful skills for lots of healthcare roles, including healthcare science, by watching our transferable skills animation.

Another student asked about the most enjoyable part of being a healthcare scientist.

James said, even though he doesn’t interact with patients, contributing to their care is the best part of his role. He knows that the answers he provides helps them get better. Andy said that building relationships with patients is his favourite part of the role. He sees lots of patients ever year, so they get to know each other well, which is a great perk of the job.

Attending Meet the Expert sessions

If you’re a school teacher interested in having your class attend future Meet the Expert sessions with NHSScotland employees, get involved by signing up at My World of Work.

View James and Andy's Meet the Expert Session on YouTube.

Learn more from NHSScotland experts by reading our blog about public health intelligence principal Garth.