What is the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP)
The NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) is a 3-year paid training programme which involves a combination of work-based and academic learning. During the programme, you complete a master’s degree in your subject area (e.g MSc Cardiac Science).
There are a wide variety of specialisms available ranging from clinical bioinformatics, life sciences, physical sciences, and physiological sciences. Once you have completed the STP you are then eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Clinical Scientist.
Each year consists of rotations. During each rotation you complete a list of competencies, such as Apply a 12-Lead ECG, a patient case-based discussion and something called a DOPS (direct observation of procedural skills). A list of the competencies per specialism can be found on the National School of Healthcare Science website.
The first year involves rotating between 3 different departments, so you get the chance to see different kinds of tests and delve deeper into other comorbidities that your patient may be suffering from.
During the STP you get to complete a 6-week elective. This can be done in the UK or lots of students go abroad. Some of the places students have gone to include Brazil, Alaska and Australia. It’s a rare opportunity to see how your specialism works in another country.
Although the NHS STP is very competitive, please do not let that put you off. When applying I was still an undergraduate with no paid experience in the health sector. In my cohort there is a wide range of people with various qualifications and experience: some like myself have come straight from university, others already have a master’s degree, and some have experience working in the health industry.
Something which certainly strengthened my application was my range of volunteering. I was a STEM Net ambassador, helped at the local multiple sclerosis treatment centre and volunteered at the food cycle kitchen preparing and serving meals to those in need. These positions took no longer than four hours per week for three months and really helped me gain experience with a wide range of people of whom I did not usually meet in normal university life.
Before applying, I strongly recommend practising the maths and logic tests. Without passing those, your application isn’t even looked at. They are not ultra-tricky, they just take a little practice due to the time limit per question. When answering the application questions ensure you use the STAR technique; situation, task, action and result.
Although you may be lacking in direct patient experience, I found it useful to draw on my experiences from working at a kids’ summer camp and group work at uni. As a clinical scientist role relies heavily on the use of technology, try and think of any examples you can, it doesn’t have to be strictly related to your specialism. For example, you could talk about using new software or things that you have done as part of your lab units.
After you have passed the maths and logic tests and submitted your application in February you are then longlisted with all of the other applicants in your chosen specialism who have also passed the tests. Your application is then scored out of 58; gaining an extra point if you have a masters and another point if you have a PhD.
Around the end of March you will receive your shortlist score. They will interview three applicants per available post. They will also create a reserve list, consisting of the same number of applicants as there are positions available in the specialism. Applicants on the reserve list will be offered an interview if those on the shortlist cannot make the interview so it’s always a good idea to prepare for an interview just in case.
Interviews are held in April, around the same time as my dissertation was due in and I was preparing for my final year exams. Do not let this throw you, with proper planning and good time management skills it is possible to prepare well, without skimping on your university work.
Try and get a day or 2 shadowing in your specialisms department. Although it may seem like extra time you might not have, the experience was invaluable. You will get to see first hand what a day in the job is like and get to talk to those in the role who have a wealth of knowledge about patient experience that you can’t find in a textbook.
I used my experience of shadowing a lot throughout the interview and it also shows you are really keen and passionate about the job. Look at the NHS values and find examples of when you have demonstrated these. Like I said before, they don’t have to be specialism related. You can draw from any experience such as university, playing sport or a part-time job.
As for the specialism specific element of the interview, go over a past unit if relevant to your role e.g. cardiology. Interviewers aren’t expecting you to know everything as you learn tonnes while on the scheme, you just need to demonstrate that you are passionate for the role.
The interview is slightly different to more ‘traditional’ interviews. It is set up like a speed-dating process, with 4 stations. One station focuses on general science, the next 2 stations focus on specialism specific questions and the final station is based on values. You get 10 minutes per station, with a 2-minute break in-between each one. It passes really, really quickly so don’t panic about the time.
There will be 2 interviewers per station asking you questions, judging not only your ability to answer the question but also your communication skills. I know this format sounds horrible, but you can use it to your advantage! If you muck up on one station, don’t worry as the interviewers at the next station will have no idea.
Make sure you are talking through your thought process – it helps the interviewers understand how you got to your answer, even if it may not be completely correct. Make eye contact and smile! I felt like a complete weirdo doing this during the interview, but it really helps your communication score. Imagine yourself as a patient; you would much rather someone treating you who comes around as warm and smiling rather than nervous and looking away.
In my experience interviewers prompted me along with some questions and were all very nice. I can’t guarantee this for all interviews but if you find this not to be the case just keep going. Sometimes, after they have finished the questions before the 10 minutes are up, they ask you if you would like to go for the two-minute break early. As tempting as this is, stay at the station. Try and add to previous questions or see if they have any further questions for you.
At the interview, you are scored out of a possible 50. This score is then combined with your application score to give you a final rank. The first rank gets their first choice in location, the second gets theirs and so on. The further down in rank you are, the less priority you get in location. Don’t let this put you off as it all depends where everyone else wants to go. One applicant this year was near the bottom of the successful places rank and got a London place.