Women and Girls in Science Day (Saturday 11 February)

Alongside others across the world over this weekend we will be promoting the participation of women and girls in science. This Saturday (11 February) is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day that reminds us to work towards improving access for women to technology and science education and creating an enabling environment for female scientists and technologists.

BWC is proud of our female scientists and would like to take this opportunity to showcase some of the roles and the difference they make to our patients.

Kim Mills, Highly Specialist Healthcare Scientist, Head of Cardiac Rhythm Management

Kim Mills What does your role include? I have worked in the Heart Investigations Unit (HIU) at BWC for over 20 years, starting as a newly qualified cardiac physiologist, I am lucky to work closely with amazing people in cardiac services and more recently with the Quality improvement and transformation team. My main duty is to perform diagnostic tests to assess the electrical activity of the heart. My true passion is implantable cardiac devices, within HIU we follow up patients with various devices including implantable cardiac monitors, pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICD). 

My day at work - Every day at work is different, especially as I have taken on more leadership roles, I manage 13 fantastic colleagues within HIU and overseas in our work experience and training programs. My perfect day starts at 8am with a staff sign-in, giving the team a chance to prepare for the day and highlight any challenges we may face, at 8:10am it's QI huddle time, a quick 10 minutes around the huddle board to not only look at how we can improve our service but to celebrate our success. Morning clinic, we will normally see around nine patients, checking how they are getting along since their last check, checking their scar for signs of infection then moving on to check their pacemaker or ICD. We assess the battery, lead status and functionality of the device before making programming changes to optimise the device for the patient.

  Kim Mills 2 At the end of clinic, it's time to check our pacemaker home monitor systems, this is where we can keep an eye on patients between clinics and is used by parents and patients to send us device downloads if they have any concerns. After lunch it's down to the cardiac catheter theatre (Angio for short), this is where, as a team made up of medics, nurses, ODP's and radiographers, we perform keyhole cardiac procedures and device implants. During Angio cases my role involves monitoring the patient's ECG and raising any concerns I may have to the consultant performing the procedure, recording intracardiac pressure traces, analysing blood samples, recording and monitoring medication times and ensuring the patient remains safe during the procedure. For device implants, my role is to check that the pacemaker lead is in the correct position and is working correctly by assessing the electrical characteristics of the lead before it is attached to the pacemaker box. In the case of an emergency, each staff member has a predefined role, my role is to operate the cardiac defibrillator. At the end of the Angio list, it's time for the team to debrief, before heading back to HIU for our team sign-out and home at 6pm. 

What does science mean to you? When I was at school, many years ago, I didn't really see myself having a job in science, although I enjoyed biology, physics and chemistry, they were not really my thing. I remember thinking that after my GCSE I would never need to know this again, but now science is in my every day and I wouldn’t be without it.

A day in the life of a Clinical Scientist in Neurophysiology, Caroline Scott

A Day in the Life of a Clinical Scientist in Neurophysiology

The Neurophysiology department, like a lot of services in the hospital, covers tests for both inpatients and outpatients, so some elements of our days are planned, but there is a lot of variation to our work.

As a department, we perform tests measuring the signals generated by nerves and muscles. My main role as video telemetry lead is to perform planned, prolonged EEGs on the ward. An EEG measures the brain’s electrical activity, which we record with time-locked video. We do this to try and capture events that children are having and identify whether these are epileptic seizures or not. In the process of looking at the brain activity and the videos of what the child does during the seizure, we can help locate areas of the brain that are generating the seizures and help guide our epilepsy surgery team towards surgery to alleviate the seizures.

A typical day:

We start work at 8am. My first job of the day is to review all the data that has been recorded on my patients since I left work the previous day. I review all of the EEG data, checking to see if the patient has had seizures marked by the parents and if there are any additional seizures that were not witnessed. I make notes and then summarise the findings from overnight in my report.

I then update the Neurology team about what we have captured overnight and then go up to visit the patients who are on Ward 10 which is our Neurosurgery ward. I check that the electrodes are still working well, make adjustments to them, reapply them with conductive paste and skin glue, and then chat to the parents and children about what happened overnight. We can make plans to reduce medications to provoke seizures where needed, working with neurology and the ward to organise emergency treatment where needed.

I will then either have EEG tests booked for outpatients in the department or I will be available for urgent inpatient tests.

We provide an urgent inpatient service for all the wards at BCH and also the Neonatal unit at the Women’s hospital.

For the majority of the tests on patients in the hospital we will be asked to perform the test at the bedside, taking portable equipment to the bed space and setting up the EEG recording, often we are looking to capture unexplained events to try and identify whether the child is having is some type of seizure or not. We also travel over to the Women’s hospital and perform EEGs on neonates who are also having suspected seizures. The age range of patients we cover is anything from 24 hours to 19 years old!

In between tests, I will be writing reports on the recordings I have performed. We analyse all the data we have captured and write a ‘factual’ report which simply describes what activity we are seeing and where on the scalp this activity is being detected. This forms the basis of the information that goes back to the referring consultant once reviewed and reported by the Consultant Neurophysiologist.

At the end of the day, I check on the patients on Ward 10 and ensure that the recording is running, and the electrodes are all recording well and make any adjustments before I leave.

Yvette Taylor, Senior Biomedical Scientist

Yvette Taylor, Senior Biomedical Scientist

Description of role: Preparation and analysis of bodily fluids to provide biochemical information to medical staff to support the diagnosis and treatment of our patients. Troubleshooting when we find a problem to ensure we can produce results and that our results are correct. Supervision and supporting other team members. Training and supporting others with the training of other staff members in the team.

What does science mean to you? I enjoyed studying science at school and it led me to a long career in Health Care Science in the NHS. I have seen many changes over the years with the progression of different types of testing. I often have difficulty persuading staff that when I first started work in the lab there were no computers and a lot of the testing was carried out in test tubes. As part of my role in training, I set up a training network of Biomedical Scientists in the West Midlands to work closely with local universities through which we provide placement opportunities for students wishing to pursue a career in Biomedical Science. I am proud to be part of the training of the next generation of Scientists.

What do you like about working in Science at BWC? Between 70% and 80% of diagnoses and treatment of a patient rely on a laboratory result. I find this amazing and am proud to be a part of this. I enjoy the variety of my role, particularly being able to educate and train staff for the future. I have been working in the laboratories at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for over 41 years and have seen many changes in technology for the improvement of producing Biochemical results for diagnosis and treatment of our patients. It is the opportunity to be part of this that motivates me to work in healthcare science.

Stephanie Allen, Consultant Clinical Scientist in Genetics

My name is Stephanie Allen and I have been working as a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Genetics at Birmingham Women’s Hospital for 20 years now.

I feel very lucky to have chosen to work in Genetics as it is a very fast-moving and cross-cutting field to work in – things are never boring!  I left University in 1993 with a biochemistry degree and went straight into research, cloning a gene as part of my thesis which was on a genetic disorder called myotonic dystrophy.  That was back in the days before the human gene sequence was published!  Since that time, technology has changed rapidly, and being able to translate genetic findings to patient benefit is extremely satisfying.  I have worked in several hospitals around the country, including Great Ormond Street and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals.  I have worked on lots of different rare genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy, metabolic disorders, and immunodeficiencies.

I currently work in Prenatal genomics – offering testing to pregnant patients across the country where the baby is at risk of having a rare genetic disorder.  We have developed lots of new tests since I have been here, that patients can now access, and we have published our findings in journals.

I started out my career working in the laboratory at the bench, but I now spend most of my time looking at and interpreting genomics data on a computer screen, reading scientific papers, and advising clinical teams on the best testing for their patients.  There is also a huge educational aspect that we are responsible for, as we try and keep everyone else up to the pace that genetics is travelling at! 

Science is absolutely fascinating, and I would encourage anyone with an enquiring mind to consider it as a career.  In particular, genetics is very inspiring and I suspect is likely to change many areas of medicine in the coming years!