Sandy, compliance officer, NHS Highland

My name’s Sandy. I am a senior biomedical scientist working for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS). I’ve been working for the SNBTS since 2000.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I always wanted to be a pilot or a scientist. Even when I was young, I was very inquisitive. At primary school, I used to ask the teachers questions like "how do telephones work?" or "why don’t birds get electrocuted when they sit on power lines?".

How long did you serve in the Armed Forces?

I served 9 and a half years in the Regular Army and was made redundant in the 1990s. I then joined the Territorial Army and served for around 8 years.

What did your job entail?

I was a multidisciplinary biomedical scientist in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

My role involved processing all the human samples, including tissue, blood, urine and faeces. I'd run tests on the samples that the doctor requested.

In the Army, the job roles are a bit different from the NHS, because you have to be ready to deploy on operations and they may be solo postings. That means that you’ll likely have worked as head of a department or as a laboratory manager during your service. That’s quite uncommon for biomedical scientists in the NHS.

When did you leave the Armed Forces? 

I left the Regular Army in 1996 and Territorial Army in 2010.

What was your perception of the NHS and how has that changed since you started work here?

One of the big differences between biomedical scientists in the NHS and the military is that NHS biomedical scientists specialise in one discipline. They become experts in that discipline, whereas I was a jack of all trades and master of none!

When I started in the NHS, me and my colleagues learned a lot from each other. I asked them about their in-depth knowledge and they came to me with questions about my experience in other disciplines.

What NHS career interested you and how did you get started?

When I was made redundant from the army, I knew I wanted to continue working as a biomedical scientist, so I applied for an NHS biomedical science role as soon as I saw one.

What transferable skills did you bring to the role?

Coming to my role in the NHS, I knew I could multitask! I was multidisciplinary trained, which means I had experience as a: 

  • microbiologist
  • heamatologist
  • blood transfusionist
  • histologist
  • biochemist
  • parasitologist

I’d also performed every role from trainee to laboratory manager during my service. I understood a lot about how teams of biomedical scientists work.

Due to postings to operational areas, I had also seen medical conditions that were not common in the UK.

Did you have to do any additional training?

When I started working with the NHS, I had to complete competency training. I also did the NHS’s mandatory induction training.

Tell us about your current role? What are your main duties and responsibilities?

Currently, I am a compliance officer (biomedical scientist). My role involves making sure we comply with laws and regulations. I do this by collecting and examining our data and performing audits. I also assist with validations, change controls, and writing standard operating procedures.

What opportunities are there to develop your skills and experience?

There are opportunities for training and retraining, both with practical laboratory work and theory work. Biomedical scientists in the NHS also do specific technical and managerial training for our role.

Unlike the military, where your work has to cover a range of specialties, in the NHS all of this training helps you become more specialised as a biomedical scientist.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best bit about my role is when an uncommon test has to be done in the laboratory, or when an unusual result is returned. That’s because I can help explain to junior colleagues about tests or results they might not be used to seeing in Scotland.

What do you think of NHSScotland as a place to work?

Working in the NHS has been very different to military life, so it definitely takes a bit of getting used to! However, the laboratory work is the same, so adapting to my new surroundings at work has been fairly easy.

What’s great is that the NHS are really supportive of staff if they wish to join the reserve forces. The NHS even supported me when I was deployed on active service while I was working as a compliance officer.

What careers advice would you give to someone currently going through resettlement, trying to find a second career?

If you’ve been working as a biomedical scientist in the military and are considering moving to a civilian role, make sure you highlight the knowledge and experience of your military career.

You should talk about your laboratory and managerial responsibilities. It will help you to stand out from other candidates who might have the same qualifications, but not the same range of experience.

What do you wish you’d known when looking for a civilian career that you think could help those currently going through resettlement?

You should definitely plan ahead! 

The biggest difference I noticed when I left the military was the pay difference. When I came out in the 1990’s my pay dropped significantly. That’s because, even though I’d been head of the transfusion department, I had to go for roles at a lower band due to my qualifications. However, this has changed since I started with the NHS 20 years ago.