You'll need strong analytical skills and practical laboratory experience to work as a biomedical scientist

As a biomedical scientist, you'll carry out a range of laboratory and scientific tests on tissue samples and fluids to help clinicians diagnose and treat diseases. You'll also evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.

Your work is extremely important to many hospital departments, such as operating theatres and A&E, and the functions you carry out are wide ranging. For example, you may work on medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or AIDS, screen for and monitor a range of diseases or carry out tests for emergency blood transfusions.

Types of biomedical scientist

Biomedical scientists usually specialise in one of three areas: infection sciences; blood sciences; or cellular sciences.

Infection sciences include:

  • clinical microbiology - identification of micro-organisms causing disease and their antibiotic treatment;
  • virology - identification of viruses, associated diseases and monitoring the effectiveness of vaccines;
  • immunology - understanding the immune system and its role in combating disease.

Blood sciences include:

  • 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.

Cellular sciences include:

  • histopathology - microscopic examination of diseased tissue samples;
  • cytology - best known for cervical smear screening, but also covers other cellular analysis;
  • reproductive sciences - analysis of samples to detect fertility issues.

Responsibilities

As biomedical scientist you'll need to:

  • perform routine and specialist analytical testing on a range of biological samples;
  • give test results to medical staff, who use the information to diagnose and treat the patient's illness;
  • process patient samples in good time and make sure that turnaround times for reporting results are achieved;
  • priortise your workload and perform urgent analytical testing as required;
  • identify abnormal or unexpected results and report back and follow up with requesting clinicians;
  • maintain and run specialist lab equipment;
  • maintain and order stocks of materials;
  • answer telephone enquiries about test results and other general lab issues;
  • accurately record data, write reports and share results;
  • develop new methods of investigation and keep up to date with diagnostic innovations;
  • support the lab's quality management system and observe all relevant health and safety regulations;
  • supervise, mentor and support trainee biomedical scientists and other support staff;
  • keep your professional knowledge up to date and take responsibility for your continuing professional development (CPD).

Salary

  • Starting salaries in the NHS range from £21,692 to £28,180 (Band 5).
  • With experience and/or specialist knowledge, you can earn a salary of £26,041 to £34,876 (Band 6).
  • As a senior biomedical scientist, you can expect to earn £31,072 to £47,559 (Band 7/8a). Salaries for consultant biomedical scientists who have reached the top of their profession are higher.

Income data for NHS salaries from pay bands agreed under the Agenda for change. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

If working for the NHS, you will generally do a standard 37.5 hours per week. A flexible approach to work is essential to cover weekend and bank holiday working. Shift work covering out-of-ours work may be required in some posts.

Some opportunities exist for part-time work or job sharing. Self-employment is unlikely as it is rarely possible to set up an independent laboratory.

What to expect

  • Although work is mostly laboratory based, you may have some patient contact. As a biomedical scientist, you must not offer clinical advice and in some cases, there is a strict 'no contact with the public' policy. However, in some roles there may be near-patient testing, e.g. 'bedside'.
  • The profession is governed by a strict code of ethics, which includes patient confidentiality.
  • You'll work as part of a team that includes healthcare science staff, doctors and nurses.
  • Vacancies are available across the UK in hospitals and private sector laboratories.
  • Although you won't usually need to travel during the working day or spend time away from home, travel between sites may be necessary.

Qualifications

You'll need to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work as a biomedical scientist in the UK.

If you've already got a biomedical science degree accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), through an education provider approved by the HCPC, the next step is to undergo a period of training in an IBMS-approved training laboratory where you will complete an IBMS Training Portfolio. On successful completion of the training period, you can apply for a Certificate of Competence from the IBMS to show you're eligible to apply to the HCPC for registration as a biomedical scientist.

If your degree isn't accredited by the IBMS, contact them to have your degree assessed and they will advise on whether or not you need additional academic education.

Some degrees accredited by the IBMS, usually referred to as applied biomedical science degrees, include the training as part of the degree and these may also be approved by the HCPC.

You can take a BSc degree in Healthcare Science (Life Sciences) with options to specialise in blood sciences, infection sciences or cellular sciences through the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP). These degrees must be accredited by the IBMS or approved by the HCPC if you want to be eligible to apply for registration as a biomedical scientist when you graduate. For a list of accredited courses, see the IBMS website or NHS Careers Course Finder for a list of Healthcare Science degrees.

It's also possible to work as a trainee biomedical scientist if you have A-levels in life sciences, but only if your employer is willing to offer financial support and the time off to study for an accredited degree on a part-time basis.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • practical laboratory skills and manual dexterity;
  • analytical skills;
  • patience and the ability to work accurately and efficiently;
  • the ability to prioritise tasks and meet deadlines;
  • a willingness to accept responsibility and use common sense;
  • flexibility and the ability to work with a range of equipment and techniques;
  • communication and teamworking skills;
  • the ability to work under pressure while maintaining standards of service;
  • the ability to work alone or under instruction;
  • IT skills.

Work experience

It's worth arranging a visit to a local hospital pathology laboratory before applying for courses to get a feel for the type of work carried out.

Competition for trainee positions is fierce as there are limited opportunities, so check job adverts regularly and contact hospitals directly. Most hospitals will have an approved training laboratory, although this doesn't automatically mean that they will take on a trainee. A placement or other work experience in a laboratory and evidence of medical interest is useful.

Employers

The NHS is one of the main employers of biomedical scientists. Work is generally carried out in clinical pathology laboratories and regional laboratories. You could also work for NHS Blood and Transplant or Public Health England or in pathology and research laboratories in private sector hospitals.

Other employers include:

There are also opportunities to work on healthcare projects worldwide with international non-governmental and voluntary organisations such as the:

Look for jobs vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also advertise vacancies, see:

Professional development

Normally, in the first two years after registering with the HCPC, you continue your professional development with specialist training, usually in one discipline. The IBMS specialist portfolio provides evidence of your training, specialist knowledge, practical skills and competency.

On successful completion of the portfolio, you'll be eligible for the award of a specialist diploma in your chosen discipline, for example cellular pathology or clinical biochemistry, and are recognised as a specialist practitioner. Once you've got a recommended minimum of five years' whole-time equivalent post-registration experience you can take the IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma.

It's also possible to further your knowledge and expertise via an MSc or PhD. Once you've achieved a high level of scientific knowledge and experience, you may become eligible to register as a chartered scientist (CSci). For more details of post-registration professional development opportunities, see IBMS qualifications.

Career prospects

Opportunities for career development are generally good. There is a set career structure in place in the NHS and in order to progress through the pay bands you need to show you have the required skills, experience and knowledge.

Upon qualification, many biomedical scientists choose to specialise in a particular area of biomedical science and progress to senior and specialist roles.

Areas of specialism include:

  • clinical chemistry;
  • cytology;
  • haematology;
  • histology;
  • immunology;
  • medical microbiology;
  • transfusion science;
  • virology.

It's also possible to move into new areas such as cytogenetics and molecular biology.

With further experience and qualifications, for example an MSc or PhD, it's possible to reach the top of the profession by becoming a consultant biomedical scientist.

Senior roles often involve managing a team or department within a laboratory, or managing a particular area of service provision such as health and safety, quality management or service delivery. You may also become involved in advanced specialist scientific work, clinical research or training and education. For information about careers in biomedical research, see the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Some biomedical scientists may choose a postgraduate route to other clinical roles, such as endocrinology, or you may wish to move into health promotion or the commercial sector in product development or scientific sales and marketing.