What on earth is Healthcare Science?

Hi! I’m Susannah, and I’m a second-year Healthcare Science student at the University of Southampton. Seeing as Healthcare Science is a profession that few seem to know much about, I thought I’d kick off this blog by explaining what it is.

Healthcare Science is – as it says on the tin – all about the healthcare of humans with an emphasis on the science and technology aspects of diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

At the University of Southampton, the course provides two pathways of Cardiac Physiology, and Respiratory & Sleep Physiology with students choosing, in Year 1, which of these two pathways to follow in years 2 and 3. The course content is a mixture of theory and practice; about half of our degree is spent in lectures at Southampton General Hospital, and the remaining time is on placement in hospitals around the south of England.

On the theory side, the first of my first-year modules was a general introduction to anatomy, body systems, diseases and physiology. In the second module, we focussed on stuff about the heart and lungs, and the various diseases and conditions that can affect each. For me, the first year has been a great introduction to the internal workings of the body with detailed information about the two specialities.

Something I have loved about the course is that I very quickly got an opportunity to put some of the theory and practice into a real-life context – we went out for two weeks of placement in January of year 1. So far, I’ve spent a total of ten weeks in the Cardiac and Respiratory departments at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth and absolutely loved it! Four key skills were practised during this time: ECGs (measuring the electrical activity of the heart); blood pressure (kind of explains itself!); spirometry (measuring and assessing lung capacities) and pulse oximetry (measuring the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood). But we’re only sent out on placement after some intense practice in our specialised skills lab.

It’s a brilliant feeling when you’ve completed an ECG or a spirometry on a patient, got it all checked over and then given the results to a doctor. Placement really teaches you so many valuable skills which you just can’t learn in a lecture theatre, and I found that my patient communication skills improved a lot just by sitting with the patients and listening to their stories when I had the chance out in practice. It definitely makes the hard work at university worthwhile, and helps you remember that you’re heading towards a career that will really make a difference.

This year I’m really excited about getting to learn much more about cardiac physiology – my chosen specialism — and developing my practical skills. By the end of the year, I should be able to help to run exercise tolerance tests and analyse the ECG I recorded for abnormalities as well as 24-hour ECGs. I’m off on placement at a hospital in Oxford for three months starting in April – I can’t wait!

Speak soon,

PS: This course shows you that hospitals are definitely NOTHING like Holby City and Casualty!

PPS: I’ll try to remember to tell you about the day that Peter Andre and a TV crew visited Queen Alexandra Hospital in a later blog…

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