Real-world learning on the Covid frontline

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Saleha German and Leila Hall, Year 3 Healthcare Science students

Leila Hall (21) and Saleha Salem German (24), Year 3 Healthcare Science students, share their work placement insights from the heart of a virology lab in Liverpool.

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 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.

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

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.

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 3000 samples per day. This will rise to 6000 per day in the coming weeks.

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

Leila Hall and Saleha German, Year 3 Healthcare Science students from UCLan’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science | 16 November 2020