With STP applications coming up, I’m sure there’s people here looking for some information on how to join the programme. As someone who’s recently come out the other side of the STP as a fully-fledged Clinical Scientist, here’s what I’d tell myself if I could go back to when I was applying to the scheme.
You are good enough to apply
Getting in your head about how experienced/educated/seemingly perfect your fellow applicants are is an excellent way to throw yourself off before you’ve even started! Reading up on the programme before submitting my application, I was so worried that everyone applying seemed to already be a clinical academic, or have multiple degrees/PhDs, as well as applying multiple times before getting a place. I applied straight from my undergraduate degree, and in some ways I think comparing yourself to other applicants is natural – but don’t let any perceived lack of experience stand in the way. Judging your potential as a Clinical Scientist is the job of the interview panel, not you, so giving your application your best shot is the best way to set yourself up for that all-important interview.
Know (a bit) about your chosen specialism
For me, Medical Physics was a relatively new idea to me when I applied for the STP in my final year of uni – it seemed like a perfect way to use my Physics degree to help people while still staying in a technical role. Whether you’ve had the STP in your sights for years, or you’ve stumbled across this page 2 days before the applications close, a quick search of your chosen specialism is a great way to find out what you’re signing up for and help identify any skills you may have that would transfer to the post. You don’t have to be an expert, but much like the other excellent interview advice to read the NHS Constitution before your interview; knowing some of the basic concepts will help you in the interview.
For me that meant brushing up on radioactive decay and statistics, but depending on the specialism it could be reading up on the cardiac cycle, different cell types, or cracking open an anatomy textbook. Any prior experience, no matter how brief, is useful – I’d done a single day’s shadowing in a hospital physics department which I talked about in the application. It shows a drive to actively find out more about the field, and if you have transferable experience in a related field definitely make sure to draw links from that to the STP specialism you’re looking at.
Why do you want this post?
The STP is designed to train up the next generation of Clinical Scientists, a small-but-mighty staff group involved with 80% of patient diagnoses in the NHS. Think about why you want to work in healthcare, and what drew you to your specialism. The application form will ask questions along these lines, and writing those long form answers will come a lot easier if you’ve already reflected on these questions. In addition to helping you out on the application, having the conviction about why you want this will make the long applications and interview process feel easier – there is light at the end of the tunnel!
Where do you want to go?
One of the stranger things about this training scheme is that it’s centrally planned by the National School of Healthcare Science, and when you apply you throw your hat into the ring with all the other applicants across the country. Once your application progresses past the initial checks, you’re invited to pick training locations which can be anywhere from Cornwall to County Durham. Depending on your circumstances, you may be up for a change of scenery or hoping to stay close to your existing location. My advice is try to be flexible, within reason. It can be very hard to move to an entirely new area, to start a job in a new field, but in general the more centres you apply to the higher the number of placements that are available to you.
Don’t be discouraged
Speaking from a relatively lucky position of applying to one of the larger specialisms and being accepted onto the STP first time, this may ring a little hollow, but if you aren’t successful the first time round know that you are definitely not alone.
Looking up competition ratios (the number of applications per available post) while I was applying really threw me, so I would recommend avoiding that temptation if you possibly can!
It is common for people to apply more than once before getting a place, especially for smaller specialisms where the numbers of training posts available each year are very limited. If this happens to you, think of it as an opportunity to pursue a role related to your specialism to gain more experience for next time – a role in a hospital department or a qualification related to your field may just give you the edge in future applications. And definitely make sure to look after yourself – that will be an essential skill when you are an STP!
Try your best not to worry
This is coming from a chronic worrier, and this is saving the best piece of advice for last as I could have definitely done with being told this when I applied!
If you’ve done your best on the application, try to put it out of your mind while you wait for a decision from the School – there’s nothing more you could have done. By the very nature of the postgraduate admissions route, people applying to the STP tend to push themselves hard. It’s part of why the scheme can produce skilled Clinical Scientists in just 3 years, but it can mean that STPs need some practice in cutting themselves some slack, which is another essential skill you’ll need to manage your time and stress levels during the STP.
As the format of the interviews has recently changed from the in-person “speed dating” format to virtual interviews with staff at hospital sites I’ve focused more on the pre-interview steps here. If you have any questions about the application process, or about the Medical Physics specialism I’m always happy to chat if you’d like to talk to someone who’s been there and got the t-shirt!
The author has kindly given permission to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org should you have any questions.