Alumni Spotlight: Amy Kirkby, Clinical Trial Specialist Apprentice

Amy Kirkby went straight from A levels into a degree apprenticeship with the University of Kent. Amy is the first in her cohort to have completed her End-point Assessment for the Clinical Trial Specialist apprenticeship and shared with us her experience of the apprenticeship process.

Why did you choose a higher apprenticeship over a university degree?  

During my A-Levels, I knew that university wasn’t for me. I learn by “doing” and felt an apprenticeship would be better suited to my leaning and lifestyle. It’s also common for more experience to be required when finding jobs, so I wanted to start early and build up my experience in the field.

How did you become an apprentice?  

I found my apprenticeship listed on the website and applied through via this route. I had to fill out an application form, as well as some general questions about the industry, before having a couple of telephone interviews followed by a face-to-face interview.

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?

Log on, check meetings for the day, check emails. I usually run a data entry/query report for my sites (hospitals I work with on my assigned clinical trials) to see if there is any data from patient visits missing/queries raised. If I have a monitoring call booked for the day, I’ll spend an hour or so preparing so I can ask the best questions to site to get the most appropriate updates and let them know of any updates from our side. I usually spend my afternoons answering emails, conducting patient-related calls, and reviewing patient trial data.

Can you tell us about your experience of combining paid work with academic studies? Have there been any challenges?  

Overall, it worked well. Once you are settled in your role and find a study routine that suits you, the challenges are minimal. There have been times where I have had to prioritise paid work, and other times where my academic studies have come first. Having an open line of communication with your manager is key, but the scheme is designed to work on an 80:20 ratio, with 80% of your work week being in the workplace, and 20% being academic studies.

How does it feel to be the first person to successfully go through the End-Point Assessment (EPA) on the Clinical Trials Specialists standard?

It feels great now (after the fact!), but it was challenging in the run-up to the EPA. As I was the first apprentice to reach this point in the scheme, there wasn’t a great deal of external support or any “mock” scenarios available. I was initially concerned if the professional discussion element would flow, or if my experiences would correlate well to the questions asked. Despite these concerns, the assessment went very well, and I passed with an additional letter of commendation recognising my high level of knowledge and professional conduct. I have since shared my experiences of the EPA and offered support to the current cohort of apprentices at Syneos Health.

Is there anything you learnt in particular during your higher apprenticeship that helps you now in your day-to-day working life? 

I think the generic soft skills like effective time management, how to prioritise and setting manageable expectations are skill that will always be useful. The scheme is challenging, but has been so beneficial to me and how I approach my working life.

Looking back, did your apprenticeship live up to your expectations? What were some of the highlights of the higher apprenticeship for you?

When I started my apprenticeship (in the very early days of the scheme), I didn’t really have many expectations.  I knew what I could achieve and learn, but in terms of how I would progress, I didn’t really know what to expect. None of my friends took the apprenticeship route and when I joined Novartis, I was the first apprentice.

The biggest highlight for me has definitely been completing my degree apprenticeship and successfully becoming a permanent employee at Syneos Health!

In what ways has this degree apprenticeship made a difference to you and your career?  

Being in an industry from the start of my post-school career has helped me in many ways. Simple skills like writing effective emails, knowing how systems work and escalation processes now comes as second-nature. I’ve already gone through some of the more challenging experiences like managing a work-life balance and salary negotiation. Overall, the apprenticeship has given me a huge head start in my career.

What are your aspirations? How do you see your career progressing?  

Once COVID restrictions ease, I’d like to take some time to travel and do some volunteer work abroad. In terms of career progression, I have found that the industry is for me, and I plan to continue working in clinical trials.

What advice would you give to people considering a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship?

Spend some time focussing on your work/life/education balance. Sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming, but once you find a routine and schedule that suits you, it gets much easier. Also, make sure you utilise the opportunity to build your professional network.


The Clinical Trial Specialist Apprenticeship at the University of Kent

Our Clinical Trial Specialist Apprenticeship works in collaboration with Clinical Professionals Ltd and aims to advance the skills of those in the field and attract new staff. It is suitable for people who work as part of a team which focusses on the delivery and execution of Phase I-IV clinical trials.

Want to know more?

For more information about the Clinical Trial Specialist Degree Apprenticeship at Kent: