HSL Online: Tell us a little about your current role in haematology.
WKW: I’m a consultant haematologist at UCLH, and consultant speciality lead for haematology and haematological malignancies at HSL. I am a clinician and also run the laboratory for specialist haematology diagnostics. Biomedical scientists are an integral element of this service so I work very closely with them every day.
Haematologists are trained in both clinical practice and the laboratory aspects of haematology. A large part of our role is providing clinical support to biomedical scientists working in the laboratory. General haematologists will support general haematology functions in the lab, such as transfusion and blood clotting. My role, however, is much more specialist: at UCLH we provide a specialist diagnostic blood cancer service across the whole of North London, covering a population of about two million. This is the service I lead.
HSL Online: Do you spend much time in the laboratory yourself?
WKW: I live in the lab! I interact with biomedical scientists very closely as they do all the testing for our specialist diagnostic service. My role lies in clinical interpretation. I work closely with the laboratory staff to ensure the right test gets done for the right clinical question, and when the result comes back, I help make sense of it from a clinical perspective.
Haematologists are members of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pathologists, so we have a quite a good understanding of testing methodology. However, we depend on biomedical scientists to perform the tests to the highest possible standards, to ensure the results we get are reliable. For example, there may be four different tests that could be used to answer a specific clinical question. We rely on the knowledge, skills and experience of biomedical scientists to help choose the best test in those circumstances. We both offer slightly different but complimentary skills: biomedical scientists have a deeper scientific knowledge, and clinicians have a more in-depth understanding of what the result means for patient management.
HSL Online: Have you noticed the discipline change much over your career?
WKW: General haematology testing hasn’t really changed that much over the past 10 – 15 years. Machines have become faster, more reliable and cheaper, but the actual techniques involved are very similar.
Specialist haematology testing, however, has changed significantly, especially in the area of genetic sequencing. We are now able to characterise blood cancers in much greater detail, and therefore provide a much more tailored diagnosis. While technology has improved, clinical interpretation has become much more challenging. We now have a lot more information that we don’t necessarily know what to do with. The challenge is trying to collate and interpret this data in a way that is meaningful for both the patient and the referring clinician.
HSL Online: What attributes do you think make an exceptional biomedical scientist?
WKW: Number one is curiosity. There is often a gap between the work of biomedical scientists and the work of clinicians. A truly outstanding biomedical scientist wants to make that boundary as blurred as possible. They want to understand the clinical relevance of what they’re doing, and be proactive in their learning.
As with any other professional, an exceptional biomedical scientist has to be interested in what they do and care about the people they help. The best biomedical scientists are those that understand the reason why we do these tests – to guide patient management. They don’t just come to work to get a result, they come to work to really advance patient care.
The Biomedical Scientist of the Year award is sponsored by HSL and will celebrate an exceptional biomedical scientist who has used his or her skills and expertise to advance practice in an innovative and impactful way, making a real difference to patients’ lives and inspiring those around them. You may nominate yourself, a colleague, or suggest he or she nominates him or herself.
The deadline for entries is 5pm on Friday 19 January 2018.