To support Healthcare Science Week 2024 we will be showcasing several cardiac scientists inspirational career journeys.

Joanne Ashton – Clinical Scientist, Head of Department and Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist

“I left school armed with A levels and a conviction that although I didn’t want to go to university like most of my peers, I definitely did want a career – preferably in engineering. My grandfather was an instrumentation engineer working in the steel industry in Sheffield, and from an early age I was making things out of bits of metal and solder in his workshop at home. One other friend declined to go to university at the age of 18 – she chose radiography and persuaded me to look at Medical Physics. I applied for the regional supernumerary training scheme, desperate to work in the Ultrasound lab in Newcastle General Hospital who were real pioneers in the field. As part of the training, you had to rotate around different disciplines though, and I soon discovered cardiology. I trained at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and absolutely loved it. Freeman was a pioneer in cardiac diagnostics – especially electrocardiography, and this is where I first bumped to the illustrious Dr Dave Richley, where he sat in a dark room staring at a single channel oscilloscope analysing ambulatory ECG’s – a bit like the Gruffalo!

The lure of money called a few years later and I took myself off to work in Saudi Arabia in what I thought was going to be a cath lab job. It turned out that I had actually been recruited as an echocardiographer and so after the shock of discovering that on my first day I set about learning how to echo – very very fast! Saudi was an amazing place to learn. There was a huge variety of pathology, the latest echo machines, alongside working with people from the likes of the Mayo and Cleveland Clinic. By the time I left there nearly five years later I was an accomplished echocardiographer, had amazing experiences and an incredible time travelling.

I returned to the north-east and then had a series of jobs but fairly quickly progressed into management. I joined the Education Committee of SCST and have been involved with the professional body in a few different roles ever since. Along the way I undertook any training or qualification that interested me. I was an accredited echocardiographer in both adults and paediatrics, I gained a teaching qualification, MSc module in Arrhythmia Management, and undertook the PwSI course at Bradford with a top up to be awarded an MSc in Cardiology. I had a brief spell in academia, and whilst I loved the student interaction, I found that I really missed the patients and so moved back to front line work.

I genuinely loved learning, studying, and even sitting exams despite being a full time working single parent. I really believe that some of what I did instilled a fantastic work ethic in my two daughters who have both gone on to achieve so much in their own chosen careers.

I embraced the roll out of the STP programme, and ensured that I went through the equivalence process as soon as I was able. I firmly believe that we should be subject to statutory registration and have achieved that for myself by being registered as a Clinical Scientist with HCPC. I realise that this route isn’t for everyone and so continue to raise the subject of access to a statutory register at every opportunity. I have strived to be recognised as a professional working in Cardiology and I’m really proud that we are now part of a recognised professional group in Healthcare Science. My passion in the workplace is supporting everyone to reach their full potential, whatever that might be. I get joy from watching colleagues grow and flourish with the right support.

In summary – I fell into Cardiology accidently, but have been in love with my job ever since. I relish the fact that no two days are the same – you never know what you are about to walk into, and I love the interaction with the patients – they are the reason that we’re all here.

And finally: A colleague once told me that one of her children had gone into school and when asked what their mummy did at work, had answered with “She’s a heart detective”. I often reflect on that job description – I think it sums us all up beautifully!”