Healthcare Scientist in Nuclear Medicine

HSC week blogEver wondered what a career in Nuclear Medicine would look like? Clinical Scientist, Sarah Bell tells us a bit about her role.

I have been working in the Derriford Hospital Nuclear Medicine department for about a year and a half now. When I first started here I was still in the final year of the three year Scientist Training Programme (STP) in medical physics. I qualified as a Clinical Scientist about six months ago – although I’m finding that I still have a lot to learn!

I am part of a team of three qualified Clinical Scientists and generally at least one trainee in Nuclear Medicine. As Clinical Scientists we are actually a part of the Clinical and Radiation Physics group, who are a department within Healthcare Science and Technology, a service line of Clinical Support Services. As Nuclear Medicine specialists our jobs are very varied, and in my opinion very interesting!

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses drugs labelled with a small amount of radioactive material to image physiological function in the body using special cameras. These images are used to diagnose or determine the severity of a variety of diseases. Radioactive drugs (called radiopharmaceuticals) can also be therapeutic rather than diagnostic and can be used to treat some diseases.

Part of our responsibilities includes the design and implementation of optimal acquisition protocols for specific studies. This means working out the best parameters to set on the camera to obtain the best images possible to send to the consultants to enable the right diagnosis. We are also involved in the computer processing of some of the more complex imaging studies to provide the right information for the consultants.

As I’m sure you can imagine – the work done in Nuclear Medicine could result in serious accidents if the right risk assessments and protocols aren’t in place to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. It is the responsibility of the Radiation Protection Advisor to ensure that there are safe working procedures and contingency plans in place to keep the risk to a minimum. I help the other two physicists, who are both certified Radiation Protection Advisors, by assisting with the risk assessments for new procedures or any modifications to existing ones. For example we are changing the radioactive isotope for one of our studies because the old one is not being manufactured any more. Does this mean that the staff preparing the patient injections will be exposed to a higher level of radiation? Will we need to change our existing procedure? What will be the clinical impact? These are all questions I try to answer before we give the go ahead.

Our responsibilities also include equipment management, which can include the specification and acceptance testing of new equipment, as well as regular quality control testing of existing equipment. We’re also lucky (in my opinion) that we have a radiopharmacy within in our department, which isn’t the case for all Nuclear Medicine departments. The radiopharmacy is where all of the radiopharmaceuticals are made each morning. I’ve recently been learning about quality control of the radiopharmaceuticals we manufacture and how we determine if they are safe to be injected into patients. I’m looking forward to getting more involved in the radiopharmacy side of the work we do here in Nuclear Medicine.

A few of the other responsibilities we have here include, but are not limited to, therapeutic treatments of patients with over-active thyroid, thyroid cancer remnant ablation, and prostate cancer metastases. Also, the management and disposal of all of the radioactive waste we accumulated in the department is managed by physicists. Finally we get involved in research and development and try to stay ahead of the game by attending conferences and courses to find out what everyone else is doing too.

I really enjoy working in Nuclear Medicine. It’s very much a team game where I get to work alongside technologists, consultants, nurses and clerical staff. It’s not just limited to our department either! From my experience Nuclear Medicine departments from other Trusts are more than happy to compare protocols and procedures and discuss new developments and guidelines and how these may best be brought into practice. There’s a great community feel to this field and I would definitely recommend a career in Nuclear Medicine to anyone who may be interested!

Day in the life of an embryologist at the Ocean Suite

HCS weekAverage day in the middle of a treatment week – Rebecca Matthews

From the crack of dawn we are up in the lab, turning on all of the equipment and getting ready for the busy day ahead of us (usually centred on making a strong coffee). Once the lab is cleaned, the eggs which were inseminated the day before are checked for signs of normal fertilisation.

Embryos from earlier in the treatment week are also checked for their development stage and quality. All of our patients from the previous day and earlier in the week are called with updates on their embryos and what the plan is regarding whether we culture the embryos on further, or whether we bring the patients in for their embryo transfer.

It is around this time when our first patient of the day is brought into theatre for their egg collection, my personal favourite job. One member of the embryology team will be in charge of the day’s worth of patients. If any frozen embryos needed to be thawed, this would also occur around this time.

Whilst the female partner is undergoing her egg collection, the semen from the male partner is being cleaned and prepped ready for use later on in the day by a separate embryologist.

The rest of the morning is normally filled with patient’s egg collections and sperm preparations. If any of the patient’s treatment plans need to be changed or decided upon, a member of the team will discuss this with the patients.

Prior to lunch, all of the embryo transfers are performed. This is usually a very exciting and happy time for our patients as well as for the staff.

After lunch and a lot more coffee, all of the mature eggs are fertilised either through IVF (the mixing of sperm and eggs in a dish) or ICSI (injection of one sperm into an egg). Once all of the mature eggs from all the patients are fertilised, they are put away into incubators until the next morning.

The next day’s cases need to be prepared and set up for and all of the paperwork from the day needs to be completed (to which there is many)! After all of our work is completed, the lab is cleaned and shut down for the day until the next morning.

I love my job and working in the embryology team is a great and rewarding job! The very best part of the job is seeing (and cuddling) the babies 9 months later. Being able to change someone’s life for the better is a fulfilling and a wonderful opportunity – definitely worth the mountains of paperwork!

The UHP Radiotherapy Physics Team

One of the least known departments within the hospital, the Radiotherapy Physics team provides a vital role supplying complex scientific and technical support to Plymouth’s Oncology department.  We are a team of 20 staff comprising Clinical Scientists, Dosimetrists and Engineers.


No Radiotherapy treatments can be carried out without our involvement.  Our Dosimetrists provide a dedicated treatment planning service working closely with Oncologists to produce highly accurate plans for our treatment machines in order that they can deliver targeted doses of radiation with millimetre precision. The radiotherapy treatment plans are highly complex requiring sophisticated computing systems. Although required to deliver 24% of radical plans in this fashion, we regularly achieve over 60%.  Additionally, we are also responsible for designing and producing aids to immobilise patients enabling high levels of accuracy while they undergo treatment.  Our Engineers undertake specialist training to keep the treatment machines running at peak performance and act as a first line of support in the event of a breakdown.  Our HCPC-registered Clinical Scientists are all highly trained Physicists who have responsibility for ensuring that the treatment machines and associated clinical systems are calibrated to deliver the correct amount of radiation to the correct part of the body.  The margin of error between successful treatment and untoward side effects is extremely narrow, so highly precise plans and accurate monitoring are needed to deliver the desired clinical outcomes.


In addition, we also advise our Oncology colleagues on aspects of radiobiology affecting patient treatments.  Radiotherapy Physics also co-ordinate the Trust’s Brachytherapy services, during which we calibrate and deliver highly radioactive sources within the patient’s body, to treat different types of cancer.  Our Stereotactic Radiotherapy service delivers highly precise treatment to cranial tumours using state of the art software and imaging to ensure that we deliver a fatal dose of radiation to the target whilst minimising damage to healthy surrounding tissue.

We are very involved in training within our section, providing teaching for the next generation of Clinical Scientists in addition to placements for student Radiographers and FRCR tutorials for Oncology Specialist Registrars. Staff also visit local schools as part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) programme, engaging students and promoting careers within Medical Physics, which they find extremely rewarding.


The department has an active research and development programme, participating in national clinical trials and commissioning new cutting edge techniques in the fight against cancer.  Staff members contribute to scientific journals and have submitted posters to international conferences.  Several also sit on scientific committees within professional bodies, helping to shape the current and future direction of Radiotherapy services in the UK and Europe.

We are a sociable and diverse bunch, comprising staff from several countries including Portugal, Poland, Cyprus, Australia and even Scotland!  Above all we meet the challenge of an ever-increasing patient workload in partnership with our Radiographer and Oncologist colleagues with a constant cheery determination.

#WeCare2 – Nystagmus Centre of Excellence

Dom Burdon talks about Nystagmus in our latest blog.

Nystagmus is an eye condition which causes the eyes to involuntarily oscillate in any one direction. It can result in the patient experiencing many problems with different visual functions, for example the time it takes to focus on targets; it can also result in symptoms where patients perceive the world to be moving, when it is actually still.

The aetiology for Nystagmus can range from chronic visual disorders to acute neurological emergency.  It is a lifelong eye condition and will affect a person’s ability to do all activities throughout daily life. Most people might have not heard of Nystagmus, however it is prevalent in 0.3% of the population.burdonsocial

In the Orthoptic department here in Ophthalmology, we pride ourselves on being a centre of excellence for Nystagmus. We are one of three centres nationally who have a clinical eye tracker, a specialist piece of equipment used to identify the type of Nystagmus and in turn, allows for swift investigation, diagnosis, management and support for these patients.

We accept far reaching referrals and are able to do the full workup for these patients, giving them answers relating to their condition which they would not have had available to them before. This support is not only provided during the Ocular Motility clinic which we run for these patients (where we use the eye tracker); we also keep in close contact with our patients even after they are discharged, in case they have any questions or concerns regarding their Nystagmus. To provide this high level of care and support we work with all multidisciplinary teams: Neuroscientists, Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, Imaging teams, Vision scientists, Genetic specialists, Neurologists, Paediatricians, visual impairment teachers and rehabilitation officers.

Through extensive clinical experience via the Ocular Motility clinic, the team here in the Orthoptic department are developing a national Nystagmus Care Pathway, to standardise care provided for patients with Nystagmus within the NHS and address present inconsistencies across the country reported by patients and families to the main nystagmus charity, Nystagmus Network. Thus, the Nystagmus Care Pathway’s purpose is to ensure that an evidence-based multi-disciplinary minimum standard of care is provided in every eye department across the UK.

Research is one of our core initiatives in the Ocular Motility clinic. Currently we are undergoing a literature review relating to the drug treatments for symptomatic Nystagmus patients. This will facilitate clinicians to make clear judgments about which drugs to trial, according to patient’s symptoms. We have exciting plans to develop the research structure in the department with Nystagmus as its core priority. We are working towards many future studies both “in house” and collaboratively with other centres. The UK is currently leading the way in Nystagmus research worldwide.

In summary, the Orthoptic team here in Ophthalmology feel very proud of the impact our centre of excellence for Nystagmus has made to patients.  As we develop our clinic further and progress with our associated research, we hope to be a stellar example of how specialist clinics and research should be represented and driven forward in an allied health profession setting.

The Hembury #flufighter

Hembury Ward Manager, Sarah Corner, has been offering the jab during some of her night shifts to ensure those who are asleep during the day, are able to get the jab when they are awake at night…


“I do the flu jabs for a variety of personal reasons. For me, it’s not a competition. This is about protecting everyone: our patients, loved ones, ourselves and those who you might only meet in passing, in the shop, the street or on the bus. Compared to what else I see in the world, this is a gift!


I am often away at this time and the start of the campaign, but this year I would say that the uptake has been much quicker than drop-ins I have previously done.


I am always happy to vaccinate when I am on duty and feel that the night clinics are really useful for those who only work nights, as getting in or out during the day can be tricky. In general I have chatted to a lot more people who have experienced having ‘real flu’ and are almost desperate to be one of the first through the door when the campaign starts. Whilst that’s great, it might also suggest that flu is on the increase and that the message of its seriousness needs to be out there. I have met fewer people this year who believe in those common myths like “it made me very ill before”, “it gives you the flu” and some of the other common ones that surround the campaign.


Off the top of my head, from the night shift sessions I have conducted, I have met people from all over the hospital, from places like:

  • Surgical Assessment Unit (SAU)
  • Torcross
  • Tavy Ward
  • Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) Thrushel
  • Hartor Ward
  • Stonehouse
  • Oncology
  • Lynner Ward
  • NHSP and trust staff
  • And nine people from Sterilisation and Decontamination Unit (SDU) whose nightshift runs from 22:00 – 06:00 so outside of any daytime flu clinic on offer


Ultimately I actually enjoy meeting the huge variety of people that come to the door. It mixes up my shift in a good way and I find it very social. I do like to inject a bit of humour into the session for those who are feeling a little apprehensive at having it done.


A trip to Bangkok breaks up my flu-jab-giving sessions briefly, for my birthday, but I will resume flu clinics when I return. Thankfully I see this year’s quadrivalent vaccine covers the Phuket strain so feeling very happy about my little birthday trip!”


Sarah is now back from Thailand – look out for her flu clinics in Daily Email, Vital Signs, StaffNET and on the Trust social media channels.

The Clearbrook #flufighter

Continuing our look into this year’s #flufighters, Nia Thielmann explains why she is seeing an increase of healthcare staff visiting her for their jabs…


“I’ve been a vaccinator for the Trust now for about five years or so. I do it to help keep patients, ourselves, family, friends and anyone we come into contact with, free of the flu. I try to take an active approach online too, and I tweet when I run my clinics and have informed the main campaign promotion too.


From offering the jab on my ward, in a central location in the hospital, I have noticed a few things. Staff are coming to me saying it’s convenient – they can’t always get to the main clinics on offer in the Discovery Library. Whilst the Trust has run a few great breakfast incentive sessions, a lot of nursing staff haven’t quite got enough time to go down to the Derriford Centre for Health and Wellbeing, as the queues have been a little  long and they can’t be spared from their wards to leave. A bacon bap would be nice though, so maybe this is something to look into for the future.


I’m finding that a lot more of my staff on the ward have been vaccinated this year in comparison to other years, and the other staff who have come to me, are also saying that they have had flu before and do not want it again. I think the minimal pain of the needle, is better than getting flu!


I do offer sweets as a reward which is my usual pacifier for staff and I have had a lot who come back to me every year.


At the time of writing (01 November, 2018), I’ve managed to vaccinate over 200 staff members so far, from the following areas:

  • Clearbrook
  • Crownhill
  • Acute Care Team
  • Torrington
  • OT and Physiotherapy (Clearbrook based and throughout the Trust)
  • Clinical Coding
  • CEO Suite
  • Consultants and Doctors – I tend to grab any visiting doctors and offer it!
  • Medical Students
  • Student Nurses
  • Pharmacy staff
  • SHIP
  • Manual Handling
  • REI
  • USS and Imaging
  • Xray
  • Urology and Chestnut Clinic
  • Mustard Tree
  • Marlborough
  • Meldon
  • Complex Discharge team
  • Volunteers, Pastoral Care and Patient Services
  • Central Records
  • Secretaries
  • Labs
  • Phlebotomy


I’ll keep going with the vaccination for the duration of the campaign, so please feel free to come and see me for your jab, and a sweet!”

Nia will be offering the flu jab from 10:00 – 17:00, Tuesday’s through to Friday’s, throughout the rest of the campaign.

The AAU #flufighters

The team on the Acute Assessment Unit (AAU) have taken a strong stance against the flu this year by offering the vaccine to fellow colleagues – and staff from across the Trust have responded. Jon King, tells us more about their #flufighter efforts…


“Firstly, I’d like to point out something – the flu vaccine is a choice. My personal approach is always one of offering a ‘no pressure’ stance, and I believe to chastise the person choosing not to get the jab is the wrong thing to do. I do however encourage them to consider it, look at the clinical evidence, and then advise where to come if they want it.


And in that regard I have found this year’s flu campaign very interesting. I have spoken to lots of people who normally avoid vaccination, yet this year, feel they should have it for a variety of reasons. Those few minutes I get with those coming for their jab, I try to listen to them and debunk the usual myth that you will get flu-like symptoms from the jab.


I took an interest in generating flu clinics here on the AAU when I initially saw the emails recruiting vaccinators. Anna (Jones) had always traditionally given vaccinations on the old ACU, and I thought being that we are now located in a more traditional outpatient setting, that the environment would easily support a drop in service, enabling easy access for staff.


The first thing was to ensure that all the band 6 nurses also supported this use of the service and were happy to complete the training. We aim to ensure there is always one vaccinator on, for every shift. This way we can deliver a consistent service throughout.


Advertising the service was always the challenge, but I think by beginning to tweet early, and having it shared by the main Trust accounts, people became aware of what we were offering.


I also initially did the rounds on level 6 with my trolley delivering vaccinations on the admissions unit, capturing different cohorts of staff including medical, nursing and ancillary teams. I really support this approach, as I think it gives a great opportunity to those that struggle to make the main clinics because of time pressures. I was also approached by the Royal Eye Infirmary (REI) to deliver a vaccination session at lunchtime, and was a great way to vaccinate a large group of staff.


A real positive for me is seeing the breadth of staff attending our AAU sessions – they really have come from many varied parts of our hospital.


If you’re thinking of getting your vaccine here at AAU, then listen to this. Everyone has said how relatively painless the injection has been! With all those that I have vaccinated, only one person has so far reported any viral symptoms, and a couple with a sore arm for a few days. Nothing in comparison to the flu though!


She’s joking – it doesn’t really hurt!

At the moment I think we are either about to hit, or have surpassed, the 300 vaccination point! (This figure is taken at the time of writing – 01 November, 2018). This is testament to the hard efforts of all those who’ve taken the time to offer the jab on AAU and of course to those who have shown up to protect themselves with the vaccine.


We will be here for the rest of the campaign offering jabs, so please come down and help keep yourselves, and others, safe from the flu this year.”

Jon, and the team on AAU, will be offering the flu jab Monday to Friday from 09:00 – 19:00.