Azrah, Level 6 clinical trials specialist degree apprentice

Azrah Bashir is in her second year of a clinical trials specialist degree apprenticeship at HMR London (Hammersmith Medicines Research); a company specialising in phase 1 and early phase 2 clinical trials. At the end of her five-year course she will get a BSc Applied Bioscience degree from the University of Kent.

Degree apprenticeships are a great way to combine a technical subject with a practical learning environment

I wanted to go into the world of medicine but I wasn’t sure where. I appreciated doctors wouldn’t be able to do their job without having medicine to prescribe, and I liked the behind the scenes industry that makes the technology and profession possible.

I took a gap year after doing my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Psychology. I worked in an opticians on and off for two or three months, and then travelled a bit. I realised I work better in a practical environment - learning hands-on.

I knew apprenticeships existed at Level 3 or 4 but didn’t know they existed to degree level. Even in college they didn’t promote the idea of apprenticeships. Amongst friends and family there was a stigma that apprenticeships are not as good as going to university.

I found out about degree apprenticeships through a lot of research, and applied to a few with clinical trials positions.I applied to do Psychology and Biomedical Science as an undergraduate degree, but I really did see them as my back-up options.

With apprenticeships, schools and employers will work together to ensure you’re in the right place

I applied with my CV, cover letter and qualifications. I then got a call back and had an interview at HMR. I did a lot of research about the company.

My interview was with a ward manager and the person who introduced apprenticeships to HMR. After I’d passed, they submitted the University of Kent application for me.

We had a uni induction - introductions of how it would work and course-based lectures. Before we could start the course material, we had to pass an Maths and English assessment.

There is a lot of variety within the workload; letting you experience the parts of the job that suit you best

My first day of practical work was daunting. I was trusted to do everything. I’d been trained but then you have to carry it out. There’s that fear of making a mistake. People here are extremely welcoming, which made it a lot more comfortable for me.

On a typical day on the wards, we are allocated rounds. You might have blood rounds - taking blood from five to twelve people at five-minute intervals - or an ECG round, where you attach all the tabs and wires and make sure it’s all within ranges that are acceptable. Sometimes I do the urine collection, to see how the drug is metabolised.

Each rotation is about six months. It’s nice, because we’re not forced into one particular thing.

Now I’m in screening and recruitment - calling up potential candidates and explaining everything, seeing if people are eligible. After that it’s more office-based data management and then back to the ward in a more senior role. I can then specialise in a certain type of trial - for example asthma, eczema, atopic dermatitis, Alzheimer trials or schizophrenia trials.

Then it’s data quality and monitoring - auditing jobs, making sure there are no mistakes, making sure the trial has been conducted in the right way. And then we go to a more clinical management role, for example being the company contact for trial sponsors.

The balance between work and university is easy to maintain, and will be supported by both sides

Course content is divided into eight or nine weeks for one module, and you submit assignments week by week. During the summer we go to Kent. There’s a checklist of skills we need to tick off. If we don’t get to cover laboratory skills in the workplace, we consolidate them at the uni.

Having that independence and the responsibility of a job, with days off and study days. It feels like a balanced lifestyle .

HMR is obliged to give us eight hours a week to study. They left it to me and the other apprentices to choose when to take those days, so we manage to fit it nicely into our routine. I like the structure. I know that every Friday or Wednesday I’m going to sit down and focus on study work and get it done. Other days I can focus on work at HMR.

There are apprentices older than me, at graduate level and above. You realise you’ve got things in common with people you wouldn’t expect. It’s nice that everyone is the same - there’s no special treatment because you’re younger.

Top tips from HMR when applying for their apprenticeships

  • Make the effort to show you’ve looked into us as a company and have tailored your application accordingly
  • Apply only for the apprenticeships you really want and your enthusiasm will shine through!
  • Demonstrate some targeted work experience or a part-time job with relevant transferable skills
  • Try to imagine yourself in the place of the hiring manager - faced with 100 applications, they will weed out any obviously unsuitable candidates. So, if you apply for an apprenticeship a long way from home, explain how you would manage that.
  • Take time to re-read what you’ve written several times. The extra effort you put in prioritising the quality over the quantity of your applications will pay off

Azrah showed that she understood what the apprenticeship involved and the demands that she’d be facing from both the academic and on-the-job elements. In both her initial application and her interview she showed enthusiasm about the scheme and was sure that it was the direction she was looking to take to start off her journey in the industry.