COVID-19: Volunteering in pathology during the pandemic

First year Biomedical Sciences student, Poppy Osman, is one of many volunteers who have helped the NHS immeasurably during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Poppy, the opportunity to help ease the burden on the NHS was the driving force behind her decision to volunteer, however, the fact that she’s been able to work in an area related to her studies and interests has helped to ensure that that it has been a fulfilling experience as well. Read all about her volunteering experience below…

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My name is Poppy and I’m currently volunteering in the East Sussex Healthcare Trust. At the moment I’m working in the pathology department in my local hospital. I first decided to volunteer for the trust when the coronavirus pandemic meant that there was a possibility that the NHS might be overwhelmed as I wanted to be able to do my bit to help in these uncertain times.. Volunteering has not only meant that I can contribute to the fight against coronavirus, but it has also allowed me to gain experience of working in the NHS, a career path that I could potentially take in the future.

From volunteering in the NHS, I have learnt many crucial skills which are useful in the workplace and in daily life. Working in the pathology department is often very fast paced as it is essential to get all the samples analysed on time. I have seen how communication is also key when discussing patient diagnosis.

My favourite moment about volunteering so far has been having the opportunity to work with and shadow the biomedical scientists in the laboratory. As biomedical science is the degree I am studying, having this opportunity to volunteer is not only a great experience but also something that I find really interesting and enjoyable. I’ve been able to have hands-on experience with organising samples to be sent off to hospitals in London, and have learnt how to start the process of analysing the urgent samples that come in from the hospital wards. I’ve also learnt technological skills just as how to use the system to log the samples when they come into pathology reception. Many of these skills are things which we build on at university however having this opportunity has meant that I can put them into practice.

From having this experience, I have also seen how time management is essential to ensure that samples which come into the pathology reception are given to the lab as soon as possible. This is really important not only to ensure that there aren’t delays in the patients getting their results but also to ensure that the tests can be done on the sample before it becomes unsuitable for testing.  This can sometimes also lead to challenges – for example when blood samples come in from the GP surgery which are under the wrong name or have clotted, they cannot be tested. It is important to spot these samples before they go into the lab to reduce any further complications both with the results and with the analysing equipment.

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Recently, as the screening for COVID antibodies has begun, the workload has started to increase. We are receiving blood samples from the hospital staff and I have been involved in the pre-analytic processing of these samples. It has therefore been important to ensure that all the tests are entered and stored correctly so that an accurate result is obtained. This is essential as the correlation between patients who tested positive for the virus and those who test positive for the antibodies will be information that is crucial to producing a viable vaccine.

Working in a hospital environment has also meant that I now have experience in a workplace which is different to one a university has to offer. As a young person it is often difficult to get opportunities to gain experience without having specialised training. I think that this opportunity will benefit me in my studies in years to come as I will be able to apply the knowledge I am learning in my lectures to practical situations.

I am also now more confident with procedures that we learn in the labs at university as I have had experience elsewhere which builds upon the essential techniques. I feel it has also highlighted my interests in specific areas of my studies which will help me make decisions on the modules I choose to take, and in the future what topic to write my dissertation on.

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Having had this opportunity to see first-hand the work that the biomedical scientists do, I have been considering future career prospects. Currently, I am unsure of exactly what profession I would like to go into after university or whether I would like to do further study. I’m interested in looking into careers which build on the skills that I have learnt in pathology but also those that allow me to have more contact with doctors and patients. I am interested in working to help develop new treatments and forms of testing. I’d also enjoy being able to communicate with doctors and clinicians when new treatments are released, explaining the science behind how they work.

Volunteering has taught me new skills, provided me with essential experience and has also given me the chance to help ease the pressure of the pandemic on the National Health Service. It has brought some challenges but also many enjoyable moments, all of which put me on the right path to a successful career after university.

To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here


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