The role of the healthcare science ambassador

Technician with microscope

12 / 03 / 2013

Melanie Watson is a learning & development lead and healthcare science ambassador for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. She was awarded STEM Ambassador of the year for Bath, Bristol and Somerset region and received a highly commended for most dedicated STEM ambassador from the National STEMNET Awards.

Melanie has for years promoted careers in healthcare science by attending various events, assisting with work experience on site, speed interviewing, mock interviewing and delivering blood science workshops in local schools.

What we did and why

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust is actively involved in promoting healthcare science careers. From running 'foyer events' during healthcare science week to championing science careers through science STEM ambassadors.

The trust sees science careers promotion as a key way to securing future workforce supply and to support this has produced a schools liaison policy. The policy ensures that training and mentoring support is given to new ambassadors and that seminar days are held to allow the network to meet. The network is facilitated by a schools liaison lead who reviews incoming requests from schools and assigns the most suitable ambassadors.

The schools liaison lead also ensures all legislative aspects of the work are covered and responds to enquiries centrally to ensure equality of access to the local community.

The trust engages with local schools by delivering blood cell workshops using ambassadors like Melanie.  These workshops form part of the trust’s school liaison strategy and support the STEM ambassador strategy for raising the profile of the healthcare science careers.

How we did it

The training team in life sciences produced a plan for facilitating an interactive workshop to show how biology, chemistry and maths are used within healthcare settings.

The sessions have been designed in such a way as to allow them to be adapted to different educational levels.  In the past the trust has run the blood cells and transfusion workshops for students in year 2 to 13, with the most successful taking place with years 5/6 and 9/10 who are most engaged and willing to participate. The sessions can also be adapted to include any curricula requirements, such as a microscopy topic. To really engage with the children the trust is innovative with materials, for example creating and using fake blood.  

Results and next steps

The sessions have been very successful and ambassadors are invited back to schools year on year. Success is measured by the degree of interaction and interest, it is much easier to engage with groups who are willing to participate. 

The profile of the trust, STEM ambassadors and healthcare science careers is promoted at every session. Melanie believes that many young people perceive the NHS to be as what they see on Casualty, for example the healthcare service consisting of only paramedics, doctors and nurses, so the sessions provide an interesting way to increase understanding about science careers.

Young people know a lot more than you assume!  All staff involved have developed their communication skills balancing the pitch of the session without overuse of medical jargon. Confidence in presenting has also increased among staff.

The sessions are still evolving after many years. Each time one is run there is immediate feedback on things to be improved and those activities that are a winner every time.  It is highly motivating and rewarding spending time with young people and has aided the personal development of ambassadors and healthcare science staff. 

The trust strongly encourages their trainee scientists and practitioners to sign up to  the  ambassador network as part of their ongoing development.

Tips for other trusts

Melanie's tips for running workshops:

  • Take a risk it’s worth it! The first sessions are daunting but so rewarding
  • Be prepared. Take time to plan the session and try out activities on colleagues to ensure they work as you expect
  • It needs to be 80% interactive dotted with 20% 'chalk and talk'
  • Have a few ‘extra’ anecdotes or activities if you finish too early and be flexible if you need to remove some elements if you are over running
  • Remember - if you enjoy it and your passion shines through-they will enjoy it too!
  • Finally remember the experiences you had in your learning journey that inspired you to take the career path you have chosen. Use that inspiration to captivate others.

The organisation

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust employs more than 8,000 staff who offer over 100 different clinical services across nine different sites. It is one of the country's largest acute NHS Trusts.


Mel Watson, learning and development lead
01173 422595

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