I am a Clinical Scientist in Clinical Bioinformatics Genomics at the Viapath Genomics Laboratories in London, and I started the HSST in September 2021 (so I am cohort 8 in HSST speak). Before moving to Viapath in May 2021 I was based in the East Midlands Regional Molecular Genetics Service in Nottingham, where I completed the STP in Clinical Bioinformatics Genomics in 2016, and then worked as a Clinical Scientist. This blog represents my experience of the HSST so far.
What is the HSST ?
The HSST, or Higher Specialist Scientific Training programme, is another training programme organised by the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) for registered Clinical Scientists and Biomedical Scientists. Trainees completing the program can join the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) Higher Specialist Scientist Register and apply for Consultant Clinical Scientist roles. The training includes work based competences and an academic component, and takes five years, with 20% of time given over for academic work.
So it’s just like the STP but longer?
Well, yes and no, but mostly no! The HSST is a bespoke training program to address each trainee’s individual circumstances, providing the opportunities to develop skills at consultant level, with academic training to support the scientific development of the trainee, as well as skills in leadership and management. There are no specialism specific competences, and instead the competences are based around the AHCS Standards of Proficiency for Higher Specialist Scientists (https://www.ahcs.ac.uk/download/268/guidance-equivalence/5265/ahcs-hss-standards-of-proficiency.pdf). This means that every trainee’s workplace experience will be unique, because each will come in with different backgrounds, and will take their own path to meet these competences in the way that works for them. For example, some trainees may address some of the education and training related competences through supporting STP training as training officers, IACC assessors etc, while others may have involvement in teaching through HEIs, or in trust education and training projects. Each trainee develops a bespoke training plan to meet their training needs.
Another big difference from the STP is that HSST trainees are not supernumerary, so they usually have substantial service delivery commitments in addition to the HSST. Many of these experiences will contribute to the training programme of course, but there is an expectation on HSST trainees to support routine service delivery that is different from STP.
What are the university elements like ?
All HSST trainees have to complete a PGDip in Leadership and Management in the Healthcare Sciences (sometimes referred to as the ‘A units’) delivered by the University of Manchester through the Alliance Manchester Business School. The first year modules cover topics such as professionalism and leadership, and later modules include personal and professional development, quality improvement and research and innovation. Most trainees, apart from those in Life Sciences specialisms, will then complete other specialism specific modules (B units) and a doctoral level research project, which combine with the PGDip to form a professional doctorate (DClinSci). Trainees in the Life Sciences do not have B unit modules, but instead have to complete the Fellowship Examination of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) part 1 and part 2, which includes a research project. In some circumstances a prior PhD in a relevant subject may be considered instead of the research project, but this should be discussed with the university at the start of the training. The Royal College of Pathologists have their own rules for what can constitute a research project to be entered for part 2.
For the past couple of years most of the academic components have been delivered remotely because of the pandemic, but some face to face teaching has started now, and I expect to have a mix of virtual and face-to-face for the next year or two at least.
What specialisms are there?
You can find out about the different HSST specialisms on the NSHCS website along with curriculum information (https://curriculumlibrary.nshcs.org.uk/hsst/specialties/). Life science trainees should also see the Royal College of Pathologists website for information about these specialisms (https://www.rcpath.org/trainees/examinations/examinations-by-specialty.html).
Who is eligible to apply, and how does the application process work?
HCPC registered Clinical Scientists and Biomedical Scientists can apply for the HSST (Biomedical Scientists can apply as of 2021- see https://nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/programmes/hsst/applicants/entry-requirements-for-the-hsst/ for details of the specific requirements). Most HSST roles are in service, where the department requests an HSST post for someone who is already working in the department, although there are a few direct entry posts too. Sometimes departments have a specific individual in mind when they request a post, but often there is an internal process where prospective trainees have to apply to be put forward for the post, either through an internal interview or a written submission. Once you have been selected you have to complete the application via Oriel, and will be invited for an interview, at which you may have to give a presentation. In 2022 the applications opened in March with a deadline in early April for in service applicants.
What are the main waypoints in the program?
Every trainee’s progression through the program will be unique to them. For example Life Science trainees have to complete Royal College of Pathologists exams that are only offered at certain times of the year, while other trainees have different academic deadlines that will be unique to the specialism. All trainees have to participate in the Annual Review of Progression (ARP) process led by the NSHCS, which is designed to support the trainee and their department, as well as to identify any additional areas of support that might be required. Along with this, the Clarity Multi-Source Feedback (MSF) system is available for all HSST trainees to use regularly throughout their training. I haven’t been through the ARP or completed an MSF as an HSST yet, but I am looking forward to doing so towards the end of my first year.
My experience so far…
I’ve been doing the HSST for nearly 7 months, and it’s been something of a whirlwind. The academic content has been quite front-loaded for me, so I had 80 credits worth of A and B unit modules to complete in Semester 1 (from September to February), and I’m still working on some of the assignments. It’s been great to get to know other trainees through the academic components, both in my specialism (which is very small, only two of us in cohort 8, though we have been linked up with the one person in cohort 7!) and outside. Hearing from other trainees about their specialism and the departments and trust context has been really valuable, both for supporting one another, and also for giving a broader perspective on healthcare science across different specialisms and around the country.
The pressures of the academic component have meant that I haven’t spent much time on the competences yet. I reviewed my training plan with my training officer early on, and we identified some things I have been doing that we could incorporate (for example I have a couple of roles with the NSHCS, which I can use to support some of the competences around education and training). I know of some trainees in my cohort from life science specialisms who have made more progress in the competences; they didn’t have B unit modules to contend with at the start, but they do now have to focus on FRCPath exam preparation. I have learned that while it’s important to support one another, it’s even more important not to compare yourself to others on the program directly. Having a training plan that is tailored to you as an individual trainee is important for this, and that’s something I’m working on at the moment. It’s also important to take the study time allocated, which should be 1 day per week, but even with that time, I have still found it necessary to work on the academic components in my own time in the evenings or at weekends. Planning ahead to see when deadlines fall and making sure I block out time for work but also time to relax has been really important for me. I initially fell into the trap of using some annual leave to work on assignments, but I’ve learned that I need to make sure I get good breaks and rest too in order to continue working and studying effectively. I’ve managed to plan some proper holiday time in the next few months, and I know this will help me to be more effective overall.
Advice for people wanting to apply…
The HSST is a long and demanding program, so you should consider what you expect to gain from it. You will learn a lot, both from the academic component, and through participating in new and different activities in the workplace, professional bodies and more, but you do need to put the time in to get the benefit. I recommend reading about the program as much as you can and talking to those already on it. Most people involved in the process would be happy to support you, by talking about their experiences, and perhaps reading your application. You should also discuss with your workplace supervisor what the expectations will be of you while on the program, and what support might be available. It is important if you start the HSST, that your colleagues understand your new role, and you may need support from senior colleagues to communicate this well. If you do decide to apply- good luck!