Healthcare Science Week 9th-18th March 2018

Published: 13th March 2018

Healthcare Science Week is an annual week-long programme designed to promote the amazing work of healthcare science professionals and highlight the difference they make to patients’ lives.

Healthcare Scientists play an essential role in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of a wide variety of medical conditions. Rapid advances in science and technology mean this area of the NHS offers some of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding careers.

Focus on Neurophysiology – Julie Conlon

Neurophysiology is a diagnostic physiological branch of Healthcare Science examining the brain, nerves and muscles of the body to support or exclude the diagnosis of a wide variety of medical conditions. These include epilepsy, encephalitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, peripheral neuropathy (of various causes e.g. diabetes) and many more.

The role of the Advanced Clinical Physiologist is highly specialised however the nature of the workload depends on the individual patient and the specific reason they are referred for a neurophysiological investigation.

As part of Healthcare Science Week 2018, Healthcare Scientist and Advanced Clinical Physiologist Julie Conlon talks about her role in the Neurophysiology Department at City Hospitals Sunderland.

‘I originally started my career as a supernumerary student in June 1996, rotating through the departments of Cardiology, Audiology, Medical Physics and Neurophysiology. After three-month placements in each department I eventually decided to specialise in Neurophysiology in April 1997. I qualified in 1998 and joined the team at Sunderland ten years ago as a Specialist Clinical Physiologist, performing routine and specialist investigations, mainly in electroencephalography (brainwave recordings) with some nerve conduction studies (NCS) in the arms and hands. At the beginning of 2017 I took the initiative to further develop my skill set in NCS of lower limbs, under the guidance of a Consultant Neurophysiologist, something which was entirely new in this field for a Physiologist (previously this was the role of a Consultant). I was subsequently able to take on my own workload of patients with certain conditions requiring advanced and specialised nerve testing, increasing service capacity for this type of test and reducing waiting times for patients.

‘This type of advanced role is pioneering within the Neurophysiology Departments of the North East Region and I was extremely proud to achieve success at interview and be appointed as the first Advanced Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology at CHS.

‘It has been a busy year full of hard work and I had to do a lot of supplementary study and clinical practice to hone my new skills. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shadow a CHS surgeon in his outpatient clinic and subsequently in theatre which has enhanced my clinical knowledge and helped me apply it in my specialised NCS clinics. I have also expanded my role to support my Physiologist colleagues who perform the upper limb NCS – I am able to review unusual results and offer advice or sometimes even do additional testing which may answer the clinical query and avoid another visit for the patient to see a Consultant Neurophysiologist.

‘Nerve testing can be challenging as patient compliance is important to achieve optimal results and sometimes the test can feel uncomfortable. I love my new role because I enjoy working with patients and my real interest lies in nerve conduction studies. I feel I am good at helping patients relax and know the importance of being approachable and open with patients to achieve the best results. During the test a lot of patients chat and sometimes they open up to me about their worries and I think they enjoy having someone to talk to. This is the part of the job I enjoy the most as I love it when a patient says they have had a good experience and they have enjoyed talking to me.

‘My journey from Specialist to Advanced Clinical Physiologist has been exciting and challenging and I know I will always be learning something new which helps me “piece together the puzzle” of nerve and muscle problems.’

More Information

If you are interested in science, no matter what your academic background, you can find out more information on routes into Healthcare Science via the links below: