About CSci

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Phil Bullock
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
First Degree: 
Works For: 
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHSFT
My super power would be foresight. I’d look into the future and see what happens as the result of my actions five years from now so that I can judge them accordingly.
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
When I was age three I wanted to drive a steam engine, but when I got into grammar school science was my strongest subject
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Many of the great scientists inspired me, especially those that linked science and engineering like Robert Stephenson and Barnes Wallace. They crossed scientific frontiers
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I have a real passion for using my knowledge, using science, for the good of the population and for the public benefit. That’s what we’re doing in the screening service…applying science to help the public.
What would you change? 
Politics at the NHS are always impossible. You become a political pawn of the current government and of local and regional management. Politics unfortunately get in the way of getting the job done
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I did A-levels in Physics, Biology and Chemistry
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I didn’t go the traditional university route. After school I joined the NHS in the 1970s and achieved a Higher National Certificate. From there I did a Fellowship of the IBMS and stayed at that level for 20 years.
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
In that late ‘90s I did a Masters in Clinical Cytology at Imperial College in London. In 2003 I did a conjoint examination which brought me to my current level of consultant pathologist
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell people I’m primarily involved in cancer screening, which they generally find interesting and want to find out more.
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
The cutting edge science in my field is the use and development of new technology as well as recent advances in molecular biology. Our understanding of cervical cancer is improving all the time. The molecular events that trigger cancer are becoming clearer. We’ve always used morphology as a way of diagnosing cancer (i.e. the size of a cell nucleus, how darkly it stains). This is basic science which has been in place for 70-80 years but now we’re starting to better understand the biological events underpinning it. Modern technology will help us to better understand those events. There’s a phrase I tell my colleagues which they thinks nicely sums things up: “Cytology is a simple morphological representation of a complex biological process.”
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
In an ideal world a screening programme would eliminate the disease it was screening for. In practice, however, this is not possible: not everyone will participate and the test is never going to be perfect. But through screening we have seen a massive reduction in cervical cancer, which has fallen to the 12th most common cancer for women in the UK. In the world, it’s the 2rd or 3rd most common cancer for women, which is primarily due to third world countries and the lack of screening.
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
I get the most pleasure in the fact that we’re relying on a simple morphological appearance [of a sample] to diagnose a complex disease….some of the satisfaction comes from being right about our diagnoses. We’re using years of experience to judge morphological appearances that can be complex and coming up with the right answer based on relatively little information.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I always knew I wanted to do science; I was strongest in science at school. I came straight into the NHS after school (didn’t go to university), but I’ve now done the qualifications I need for vocational use. I’ve always worked for the NHS, except for three months after I left school counting freshwater invertebrates! My work has always focused on cellular pathology, or the study of disease in tissue and cells. In cytology the roles for non-medical staff have increased in recent years as well as the need for medically qualified consultant pathologists (my level). There have been a lot of obstacles along the way, and I’m really pleased we’ve finally achieved this.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I sit here in a lab but I have strong clinical interfaces with colleagues in both gynecology and colposcopy. The way in which my colleagues treat their female patients is often determined by the information we give them based on cellular appearances. We have meetings to discuss patients where we view slides and have both clinical and cytological presentations before agreeing on a plan of management for that patient
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
I think what would surprise other people is the level at which we work and what we’re actually able to achieve based on the samples that come into the department. They’re relatively simple samples but the information we can get from them is often quite high-level. That will only increase as we use more and more modern molecular biology techniques
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Passing the conjoint examination that got me to this level in my career
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
Yes. The NHS likes to think it can give its staff good balance, but sometimes that’s only achieved by people taking control of their own situation. Local management would just bury us under anything they could given the chance. Achieving a good work-life balance does require some personal interaction with management.
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
They think I’ve done extremely well in my career and that my job is highly valued. They’re all highly supportive
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Fly fishing for trout, motorcycling, building model railways
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
When I tell people what I do for a living, it helps to be able to tell them that I’m a chartered scientist to give them an idea of the level that I’m at. They compare it to levels they know like that of a “chartered accountant”. It’s an equivalent that people are able to understand. If I tell people I’m a fellow of the IBMS, people in my field understand its significance, but not outside of it. I value that CSci is a portable qualification
What is the value of professional bodies? 
My professional body gives me a framework in which to work, access to educational activities, opportunities for professional development like serving on committees and networking
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
CPD is essential. In this modern day and age we need to prove we’re keeping up with developments in our field. Revalidation is a key part of this and something I wholeheartedly support because without it CSci would become meaningless. I don’t think anyone should gain access to a qualification and then let it sit there for life, with no guarantee of knowledge behind it.
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
I’d advise them to think carefully about their motives coming into work. You need a strong personal drive to get through the system and deal with the confounding factors (i.e. rigid frameworks that don’t always support you). But the reward comes from delivering a high quality of service to local populations.
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I always attach anyone new coming into the lab with a mentor. I certainly had that kind of support when I came into this role. Anyone new coming in at the level I’m at is inevitably going to need that kind of support…I think it’s vital. You need a strong link with someone else. But it’s also vital to get information from a broad base. If all your information comes from one direction you take the risk of adopting a narrow view – you need to widen that view by being exposed to colleagues in other areas so you can have a counterbalance
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Qualities or adjectives that come to mind include predictable, consistent, reliable, high-quality, cutting edge, willing to learn but also willing to listen to other professionals outside their field and use that information to influence and improve their own work. “Contribution” is also an important word – any professional should be prepared to contribute to their profession at an appropriate level.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
When I started in my career I set myself some goals. Were those goals ambitious enough? I’ve now achieved and surpassed them. My career pathway has exceeded my expectations. I’m probably going to work for another 10 years. The cervical screening programme is undergoing a massive change with the introduction of automation and molecular biology techniques. My goal professionally – which is wider than my current job – is to be involved at a national level in steering the cervical screening programme through this period of change. I’ve sat on national committees in the past, and people to ask me what I think about certain issues. My lab has gone through changes other people have yet to go through, so I’m able to weigh in on that. Nationally the cervical screening drive is to nationalize and consolidate labs… in our case, we’ve merged four labs into one. People ask me how that’s worked and what we’re done – they’ve been able to take away important information from our experiences. I want to do anything I can to help facilitate things for my colleagues elsewhere. My aim is to help negotiate this period of change and ensure we’re still left with a robust high-quality service.
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