Biomedical scientists work in healthcare and carry out a range of laboratory tests and techniques on tissue samples and fluids to help clinicians diagnose diseases. They also evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.
Their work is extremely important for many hospital departments and the functions they carry out are wide ranging. For example, they may work on medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, AIDS, malaria, food poisoning or anaemia, or carry out tests for emergency blood transfusions or to see if someone has had a heart attack.
Biomedical scientists tend to specialise in one particular area including:
- medical microbiology - identification of micro-organisms causing disease and their antibiotic treatment;
- clinical chemistry - analysis of body fluids and toxicology studies;
- transfusion science - determination of donor/recipient blood compatibility, ensuring blood banks are sufficient;
- haematology - form and functions of blood and related diseases;
- histopathology - microscopic examination of diseased tissue samples;
- cytology - best known for cervical smear screening, but also covers other cellular analysis;
- immunology - understanding the immune system and its role in combating disease;
- virology - identification of viruses, associated diseases and monitoring the effectiveness of vaccines.
Typical work activities
Biomedical scientists usually work with equipment with high levels of automation, and most laboratories are extensively computerised.
Work activities vary depending on the specialist area but typically include:
- testing human samples such as blood, tissue, urine or cerebrospinal and faecal material for enzymes, hormones, and other constituents;
- analysing cell cultures grown from tissue samples and identifying blood groups;
- working with computers, sophisticated automated machinery, microscopes and other hi-tech laboratory equipment;
- assisting in ensuring that the necessary turnaround times for reporting results are achieved wherever possible;
- communicating the results of tests to medical staff, who use the information to diagnose and treat the patient’s illness;
- monitoring the effects of medication and other programmes of treatment by carrying out further tests;
- using information technology to accurately record and analyse data, write reports and share results;
- responding to and redirecting professional enquiries;
- assisting in the production of laboratory documentation, particularly relating to policies and standard operating procedures;
- developing new methods of investigation and keeping up to date with diagnostic innovations;
- implementing quality control procedures (both internal and external) to maintain accurate results;
- maintaining and updating professional knowledge and taking responsibility for continuing professional development (CPD).
Although some of the analytical work may be of a routine nature, many of the tests are challenging and demanding. Modern pathology and biomedical work entail complex investigations, requiring a keen eye for detail and the ability to provide a quality service despite pressure from tight deadlines and a high volume of work. The ability to work effectively as part of a team is an important personal quality for the role.