Vicki Heath (Class of 2006)

Tell us what you do for a living?
I’m a healthcare scientist in the NHS. Healthcare scientists use science, technology, engineering, maths and computing to diagnose, treat and prevent disease and injury in patients. 

There are over 50,000 healthcare scientists in the NHS, in over 50 specialisms, which is about 5% of the workforce, and yet as a group we contribute to 80% of all diagnoses made.

My specialisms are virology and immunology, two really important areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a day job, I am deputy lead healthcare scientist for a hospital in London. We have over 700 healthcare scientists here so it is a big responsibility, although one I really enjoy.

I have two side jobs, one as an apprentice assessor for the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS), and one doing science themed stand-up comedy. The last one is new and a bit odd, but I am glad to be giving it a go!

Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing after you left school?
When I was at the Royal Latin, work experience wasn’t available during school term, but I phoned a hospital laboratory in Oxford and spent the Christmas holidays of year 13 shadowing the scientists in cellular pathology.

Six weeks later they sent me an application form for a four year training programme that I could start as soon as I had my A level results. Fourteen years later and I am still here, but beyond the four year training programme I didn’t really have a plan! 

What’s been your inspiration – what’s pulled you forward into your current role?
I’ve always enjoyed science communication, and came back to help Mr George with the year 2 and 5 science fairs even after I’d left the Royal Latin. My enthusiasm for teaching and supporting healthcare scientists has developed over the last few years and partially led to my decision to leave a laboratory based role and take up my current one.
The current role also came with the opportunity to study a part time PhD, work for someone I’ve admired for years and a jump up the NHS payscale. I really can’t complain!
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date, the thing you’re most proud of? Professionally or personally!
There isn’t one achievement that particularly stands out because I am a big believer that we are always learners and am always pushing for something new. However, one thing I am particularly proud of is my work in Sierra Leone.

Back in 2015, I pushed out of my comfort zone and volunteered for a deployment to Sierra Leone to work in an Ebola Treatment Centre. I was part of a laboratory team that tested samples for Ebola and taught local scientists the techniques as part of a legacy project so that they could continue the testing during any future outbreaks. 

Was there a particular teacher, or a moment at school that particularly inspired you?
This one is easy! Halfway through year 13 I was offered the job as a trainee biomedical scientist on a four year training programme. The news that I was planning to leave school without going straight to university full time wasn’t a popular one. Friends, family and teachers tried to discourage me. 

Mrs Geaves was my A level Biology teacher and she had done something similar when she left school. She was the only person to really support my decision and without her, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to follow it through.

Full time higher education may have worked out as well, but I haven’t regretted my decision to take that job for a single second. The four years extra work experience was brilliant for my career and over my time in the NHS I have been able to secure funding for my degrees so have never had a student loan. I owe so much of where I am now to Mrs Geaves and will be forever grateful to her. 

How important do you think your school days were in shaping who you are today?
I think the school experience is an important part in shaping everyone – you spend so much of your childhood there. For me, school gave me my first experience of teaching STEM subjects to younger children which was hugely important.

Towards the end of school I also learned to start trusting my own instincts and making decisions that took me down a different path to others. The Duke of Edinburgh Gold leader in Aylesbury once referred to me as, ‘An unconventional girl’ and I have strived to live up to that description ever since! 

What’s your work:life balance like? How important is that to you?
My work:life balance is atrocious, there really isn’t another way to describe it. I have three paid roles, two unpaid roles and can count the number of days I’ve not worked at all in 2020 on one hand.
I am lucky that a lot of this extra work often doesn’t feel like work. I got to spend a weekend at Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey) running a 1918 field hospital as part of the armistice centenary celebrations, I have done a stand-up comedy gig in a converted magistrate’s court, and I have given my input into a play about scientists that was performed at the Camden People’s Theatre. 

Having said that, my entire team have agreed to support each other to improve our work:life balance and to take our downtime for our own mental wellbeing. 

What advice would you give to today’s students who may be struggling to choose which path to take beyond school?Now is a very difficult time to be leaving school. The economy will struggle as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the job market will become even more competitive than it normally is.

That being said, there are so many options right now. Don’t just think about the subjects you enjoy, think about where your skills and strengths are. Then look for career paths that meet both your interest and strengths. Speak to as many people as possible about the work they do, how they feel about it and where they think the prospects are.

If you like the idea of science and helping patients – come and talk to me! I can tell you all about the careers available in over 50 different areas and which specialisms are going to be struggling to recruit in the next few years. These areas often come with easier career progression and increased funding for professional development.

Finally, do you have a favourite quote, expression or mantra which inspires you to keep going?
‘Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained’ 

Marie Curie. (The first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first person to win the Nobel Price twice and still the only person to have won the Nobel Prize in two different categories.)


Application to Sixth Form 2023

Save the Date

The Sixth Form Open Evening will be held on 17th November 2022.

Important announcement

We are open today, Tuesday 13th December. If the situation changes with the weather we will update the website and social media accordingly.