How two UCLan students have been helping to save lives - doing what?

Work experience is an exciting stage in preparing for the world of work.

Leila Hall  ( front) and Saleha Salem German, Year 3 Healthcare Science students from UCLan’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science
Leila Hall ( front) and Saleha Salem German, Year 3 Healthcare Science students from UCLan’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science

Two Preston students were thrown in at the deep end when they found themselves on work placement in a virology Covid lab in Liverpool.

But, things could not have been more exciting,and simultaneously daunting, for Leila Hall, 21, and 24-year-old Saleha Salem German.

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They are third-year healthcare science students at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and their “work experience” has played a key part in getting coronavirus test results through the system.

Caution is the key word when working on the samples

Here the pair, who study at the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science, share their work placement insights from the heart of a virology lab in Liverpool where mass testing is under way:

“Life is full of surprises, but the biggest one of all is learning what it takes to handle them.

“As part of our BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science degree we never expected our placement to take place in the middle of a pandemic.

“What’s more, we’d never have imagined a working day which involved the processing of thousands of potential Covid-19 samples.

Working on the Covid-19 tests was a valuable experience for the UCLan students

“To us the word ‘pandemic’ seems like a concept for the world’s top scientific researchers to solve.

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“The reality is the majority of the work on the ground is done by people like our NHS staff who have coped amazingly well with this deadly virus which is always central to their daily working lives.

“We’ve seen this first-hand through our placement work within the virology section at Liverpool Clinical Laboratories, part of The Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

“Our main workload is focused on the thousands of Covid-19 tests we process every day.

“While Covid-19 is our priority, every other laboratory test also needs to be processed and to meet the workload demands a 24/7 service, complete with additional staff, has been opened.

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“Work in the lab can be stressful at times but ultimately it’s very rewarding as we’re contributing to keeping the public safe and helping highlight of the spread of Covid-19 between communities.

“Working in a Covid-19 lab has really emphasised the importance of PPE to us.

“Lab coats, gloves and masks are mandatory when working directly in the lab while we always wear masks outside of our immediate work area.

“The lab is also sanitised with strong antibacterial/anti-viral/anti-fungal disinfectant throughout the day, but the pandemic has highlighted the importance of personal hygiene measures so proper hand washing techniques and other strategies have been implemented to keep us all safe.

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“Despite the increase in workload, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on virology research has been largely positive. Liverpool Clinical Laboratories Virology Department has developed even stronger links with the University of Liverpool by providing positive samples to be tested.

“Since the samples come from a hospital the department can also provide patient demographics such as medical and travel history to aid in the accuracy of the research.

“The university has also helped our virology department by lending us cutting-edge equipment which can detect, amplify and speed up the process of our work.

“Initially the testing process took much longer and required more work, but a result of the pandemic is we’ve now acquired machines which allow the laboratories to test up to 3,000 samples per day.

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“This will rise to 6,000 per day in the coming weeks.”

The girls are enjoying the part they are playing and conclude: “The Covid-19 pandemic has ultimately been a struggle for all of us.

“Nevertheless, the continual work of the NHS laboratories to provide a fast, efficient service, is something we are proud to have played a small part.

“Personally, we have learnt so many vital skills during this 40-week placement which will undoubtedly help us in our future careers.

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“It has been an experience neither of us will ever forget.”

The students both did their first work placement, of 10 weeks, in the hospital labs in Liverpool.

At that time they did a rotation of all the biomedical departments to help them decide on specialism for the final year.

Saleha said she had expected to be doing haematology during this placement but because of the situation in Liverpool with mass Covid testing all hands were needed in the microbiology department.

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And, they are over the moon that they were.

Both girls have relished the opportunity and says Saleha: “We are really proud to have played a positive part in the Covid battle.”

She has paid tribute to the work of the biomedical scientists, whom she described as “The unsung heroes” working behind the scenes in the labs .

The course at University of Central Lancashire is ranked second in the North West for anatomy, physiology and pathology and is is in the top five in the UK for its teaching quality.

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Since the early part of the coronavirus outbreak the university has provided a host of support both locally and nationally.

New medical graduates, from the first cohort of doctors to nursing staff and social care scholars found themselves helping out in hospital wards and clinics as well as care homes before they had officially graduated to help out with the NHS staffing crisis.

The dental school has been used as an emergency centre for NHS patients and staff from various departments were involved in lab work and initiatives such as making valves for ventilators, protective equipment and hand sanitiser for care homes.