Inspiring students to take STEM further


Many students think that careers in STEM are only for A* candidates. Physiology lecturer Tom Warrender discusses the range of options available and offers some ideas for inspiring all students to take their STEM studies further.

In today’s secondary schools, every teacher has the responsibility of raising the aspirations of their students and giving them advice and guidance where ever possible. So, what do you do when you have a student that’s interested in a career within the NHS?

Chances are the student will fall into one of the following categories:

  1. They want to be a doctor or surgeon and have a good chance of getting the required grades. 

  2. They (or their parents!) want them to be a doctor, but you know deep down they won’t get the grades needed to get into medical school.

  3. They like the idea of working in the NHS but have no idea what to do.

With the first group, all you need to do is support/encourage them and help them find opportunities to strengthen any UCAS application. They will already be focused on what they want to achieve as an end-goal, therefore concentrate on the other two categories – so as not to miss a brilliant opportunity.

Let’s start with the second group – you know they are good students, but they won’t get the A and A* grades across the board needed for medical school. How do you tell them to modify their ambitions? What other choices do they have? Well, the good news is they have plenty!

There is a group of careers in the NHS that come under the banner of healthcare science and it is a pretty awesome set of job prospects. There are more than 40 to choose from, across five different sub-sectors, which just adds to the appeal as they are all very different. And how important are these careers? Let’s just say the NHS would grind to a halt without them as they perform 85 per cent of the diagnostic tests in a hospital.

In physiology you have lots of direct contact with patients via the running of such diagnostic tests. You can specialise further in testing specific organs like the heart, lungs, ears, brain and nerves, or gastrointestinal tract. You can even become a sleep physiologist and monitor what happens to the body as it slumbers.

The life science careers are typically more lab-based, but patient contact is still part of the remit. You could be an immunologist and histocompatability scientist (how cool is that for a title?) and check that organ donors and organ recipients are a match for transplant. Or you could test blood and various other bodily fluids as a hematologist microbiologist or virologist.

Then there is medical physics where you could be working with radioactive medicines or taking images of the body with CT, MRI and PET scanners. Medical engineers repair and maintain hospital equipment, or you could be involved in the design and customisation of equipment and even body parts for patients.

The newest arena, which is set to be a huge growth area for the NHS, is bioinformatics. This is how we store data from tests and patient records digitally. 

Many hospitals are now going “paper-lite”, so all records are accessible on computers or tablet computers. Plus, there are all the images, results and (coming very soon) your genetic make-up that has to be stored. That is a huge amount of information – so having people in place to properly organise and run this kind of facility is vital. 

But, I haven’t even told you the best part about these careers yet. If students can simply attain grades A to C (not A*s) in just maths, English and science they are on the first step to becoming a healthcare scientist. This scenario opens up these careers to so many different types of student – whether their interest is science, IT, engineering, to name but a few.

The next great thing about them is that you can go down the Apprenticeship route, or become a healthcare science associate, which is like training on the job. You can take a classic 6th form/college then university route and go and study something different – then top-up with a post-graduate course to qualify.

For the university route, check out healthcare science on UCAS. Different universities have different specialisms within their healthcare science courses, for example some will focus more on physiology and some life sciences. 

During their schooling, encourage students to try and experience them all and then decide which one you want to focus on. Via UCAS you can also check what qualifications each university wants from your students to get accepted onto any course. Apprenticeships meanwhile are advertised on specialist websites as well as NHS Careers and job sites.

So, one of the major benefits of healthcare science is that it is definitely open to more than just your high-ability A* pupil. This accessibility through different routes also means that it is a more attractive career path for pupils who might not consider university. It makes for a “perfect storm” of circumstances that offers career paths that are attractive to any pupil who has a fleeting interest in STEM.

The trick is to draw them in, make them aware and give them a tantalising taste of what is possible. There are lots of ways to do this, but here are my top three:


Contact your local STEM Hub. They run events, training, find outside speakers for you, help you put on STEM events and, most importantly, connect you to healthcare science STEM Ambassadors. They will pretty much do all the leg and paper work for you and make it as easy as possible for your school to access these ambassadors.

STEM Ambassadors

STEM Ambassadors will visit the school for free and provide a talk or activity for your class. Being very passionate about what they do, they are the ideal people for your pupils to speak to. They are usually under-used as well, so will probably jump at the chance. Occasionally, their work schedule may not fit in with the school timetable, plus if they are a new STEM Ambassador, they may need some initial guidance and support on delivering a session that’s right for you and your pupils. 

Free resources

NHS Careers has some great and easily accessible materials on its website, but unfortunately these are not promoted widely enough so pupils and teachers often miss out.

Additionally, I have put together 40 free posters that you can access and put up in your classroom or lab. Each poster highlights a different career within healthcare science and includes information on what the job entails, how much it pays, and a typical entry route into that career. These are free to download (see further information).

  • Tom Warrender is the founder of Classroom Medics, a company that inspires pupils across the UK with hands-on workshops that bring real medical and sports science equipment into the classroom. Visit

Further information

CAPTION: Blind ‘em with science: Students take part in hands-on STEM activities as part of the Classroom Medics workshops


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