Let me give you a current overview of my profession.
Neurophysiology is a specialism of Healthcare Science that is currently struggling to recruit the numbers needed via the standard Practitioner Training Programme route, particularly in the South West.
With this in mind, the Association of Neurophysiological Scientists (ANS), Aston University and the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP), in setting out the policy to reform the healthcare science workforce for the benefit of patients, the service and individuals undertaking a career in healthcare science, have formulated a new career pathway into Neurophysiology – Accredited Scientific Practice (ASP).
The aim is to ensure that employers can develop the healthcare science workforce that is required to keep pace with scientific and technological advances. The ASP also supports the attainment of specific techniques and specialist skills that will progress and enhance healthcare services and patient care whilst ensuring development within the healthcare science workforce. In 2014/15 the first ASP Neurophysiology programme was launched, alongside Medical Physics Expert.
I enrolled on the ASP route in Neurophysiology in October 2014, having secured a position as a Trainee Neurophysiologist. The two-year course involved studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Neurophysiology at Aston University and sitting two Association of Neurophysiological Scientists (ANS) standalone exams; electroencephalogram (EEG) and Visual Evoked Potential (VEP) and Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) in the first and second years. These standalone exams involve a portfolio, consisting of two folders of evidence gathered throughout the year, and a standalone practical exam at the end of the year.
The course at Aston University involved three modules: EEG in practice, Professional Practice and Introduction to Healthcare Science. Owing to my previous studies, I was fairly au fait with the latter subject, allowing me time to focus on the EEG aspect of the course, involving EEG in coma, paediatric EEG and sleep EEG.
With a limited knowledge of neurophysiology and having never seen a normal EEG, I was initially a little daunted and overwhelmed. This was soon alleviated when my knowledge developed with experience. It was only at a later stage, when I began to understand more, that I could fully appreciate how fascinating this material was. With the help of my colleagues in the department, I was able to grasp an understanding of EEGs that led to me completing the course in May 2015.
Simultaneously, I was learning the practical aspects of performing EEGs in the department, firstly observing my colleagues, then performing EEGs under supervision and eventually performing EEGs independently. I was presented with a range of clinical scenarios early on, including generalised tonic clonic seizures, strokes and complex partial seizures, which only served to help the learning process and to develop my portfolio. In November 2015, I passed the ANS EEG standalone exam, which was, in no small part, thanks to my colleagues, work-based assessor and mentor who had dedicated their time to help me succeed.
I quickly moved on to the second part of the ASP programme, which involves a single module of the scientific training programme (STP) course at Aston University, Nerve Conduction and Evoked Potentials, and the ANS VEP & NCS standalone exam. The module at Aston University was assessed by a poster presentation on a literature paper and a two-hour essay-style exam, which covered evoked potentials (EP), NCS and electromyography (EMG). The EMG aspect, whilst not directly applicable to neurophysiologists, was fascinating and enabled me to appreciate the wider picture of Neurophysiology.
Once I had passed the exam in May 2016, I followed a similar route to the previous year – focusing on my portfolio. Whilst only VEP and NCS are assessed in the ANS part II standalone exam, I also learnt how to perform brainstem auditory evoked potentials, somatosensory evoked potentials and pattern and flash electroretinograms. In the same vain, whilst the NCS aspect of the course focuses mainly on carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar neuropathies, diabetic neuropathies and diffuse demyelinating neuropathies can be encountered. This variety in the tests performed and the different conditions diagnosed served to improve my exposure to the wide range of situations encountered within neurophysiology. In December 2016, I sat my ANS Part II VEP & NCS exam and was successful, again with thanks to the support and dedication of my colleagues, work-based assessor and mentor.
A pathway into Neurophysiology for others…
Neurophysiology is an advancing field, and the ASP programme allows students to fast-track their way to becoming a competent Clinical Neurophysiologist. This avenue into neurophysiology is something that I would encourage prospective students to pursue; it is demanding and fast paced, but, with the support of colleagues and the professional bodies, it is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.
It is an innovative approach to providing focused, quality assured and accredited continuous personal and professional development, in turn improving patient care.
Lucy is writing as part of the #WeCare2 campaign that will be running across our Trust communications. Look out for more from Neurophysiology, and their AHP and HCS colleagues, on our social media pages, Trust screensavers, Daily Email, Vital Signs and much more.