Max Thomas’ journey to clinical physiology

Max Thomas was a student on the MSc course in Human and Applied Physiology in 2012-13, some of which is taught by Ged, Vicky, Alan and Caroline.  He is now a trainee Clinical Scientist in Birmingham and recently contacted us for some advice about respiratory muscle testing.  Here he tells us about his career path to date.

 

What made you decide to study physiology at King’s?

Prior to arriving at King’s, I studied Biology. Science had always been the only subject that could keep my focus and attention. I knew my passion was within the field of biological science, but was clueless as to where. My first year reflected this lack of uncertainty with the modules I selected ranging from microbiology and comparative physiology, to forensic biology and pharmacology.

As the years progressed I found myself more drawn to subjects involving health, disease and physiological function. My final year research project looking at age-related muscle decline was what sold me on the MSc in Human and Applied Physiology. My project supervisor was Dr Jamie McPhee, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable physiologist, who suggested the course as one of the best in the country.

I’ll be perfectly honest, at that point I had no career goal at the end of the MSc; I studied because I was truly passionate about the science and knew that interest would take me forward. That fact is something I am more proud of myself for every time I reflect on it.

 

What did you think of the course?

What would you think of a course that teaches about the physiology in health, disease, extreme temperatures, space, the deep sea and fighter pilots? Also throw in some lectures about the astronaut selection process given by astronauts, a lecture on blast injuries, and the chance to contribute to some really interesting research. It was awesome. Although, it was equally as challenging as it was fun.

Its broad content suited my uncertainty about the aspect of the science I most enjoyed. We were exposed to everything physiological science can offer from micro, such as staining muscle biopsies for microscopy, to full body physiology in health, disease and extreme environments – with some excellent in-house experiments and research project field trips. Being exposed to so much allowed me to really determine what I was interested in and where I wanted to focus.

 

Tell us your one favourite thing about the MSc.

On top of the course programme, the guest lectures we had throughout the year were fantastic. However, the field trips were hands down the best part about the course. My particular favourite was the trip to an RAF station in Henlow where we helped out with a research project there using the hypobaric chambers. The team there were looking at the efficacy of two breath-actuated breathing devices used by Chinook helicopter crews who can be exposed to altitudes of 10,000 feet. We were able to participate in and operate the experiment for a week, and it is still one of the coolest things I’ve done to date.

…and one thing you really didn’t like.

Douglas bags

 

What have you been up to since you left King’s?

I spent a year getting as much exposure to clinical science as I could (mostly observational experience in cardiac and respiratory physiology) whilst applying to graduate schemes.

I’m currently in year 2 of a highly competitive graduate scheme called the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). The STP is a 3 year clinical scientist training scheme where you work in a hospital and develop competence in performing diagnostic tests and clinical assessment whilst undertaking an MSc in your relevant field – mine is Respiratory and Sleep Science.

The MSc in at King’s is definitely the reason why I was a cut above the rest when applying. There were 7 positions for Respiratory and Sleep Science when I applied, and this graduate scheme has thousands of applicants.

 

Can you tell us what your job involves now?

I spent the last year rotating around cardiology, vascular sciences, pathology and radiology learning incredible amounts and getting to see some really interesting procedures and surgeries. Now I am back in my Respiratory and Sleep department I perform lung function tests on patients (including respiratory muscle function which Dr MacBean must be super proud of me for), and help with sleep studies, consultations and issuing treatment for sleep apnoea. We work with a range of patients and diseases i.e. COPD, neuromuscular disorders (like Duchenne muscular dystrophy), lung cancer, etc.

Next year I will move on to performing cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPET) in a clinical setting, and blood gas analysis for the issuing of oxygen therapy.

Whilst working, I am also able to perform clinical research and I am currently in the midst of a project looking at two different forms of occupational asthma.

 

Do you have one favourite geeky physiological fact?

Aren’t they all inherently geeky? My favourite fact comes from someone asking me if the human body is seven years old, or if that is a fabricated pub-fact. My research lead me to the answer: there are tissues in the brain that never regenerate and are as old as us. However, the interesting part of this story is not that Dave at the pub was blowing hot air, but how we’re certain of this fact. This all relies on the nuclear bomb.

Testing of nuclear bombs in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s vastly increased atmospheric concentrations of an isotope of carbon, carbon-14 (C14). C14 is used along with other forms of carbon by plant matter during photosynthesis, the plant matter is eaten by animals, and humans eat either the animals or plants, or both. The C14 is incorporated into the tissues formed and the concentrations in the tissues are remarkably accurate of atmospheric concentrations around that date.

Max Thomas, Trainee Clinical Scientist, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital

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