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 four areas: infection sciences, blood sciences, cellular sciences or genetics and molecular pathology.
Infection sciences includes:
- medical microbiology - identification of micro-organisms causing disease and their antibiotic treatment
- virology - identification of viruses, associated diseases and monitoring the effectiveness of vaccines.
Blood sciences includes:
- 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
- immunology - understanding the immune system and its role in combating disease.
Cellular sciences includes:
- histopathology - microscopic examination of diseased tissue samples
- cytology - best known for cervical smear screening, but also covers other cellular analysis.
Genetics and molecular pathology includes:
- genetics - study of genes and hereditary variations in genes
- molecular pathology - study and diagnosis of disease through examination of tissues and fluids at molecular level.
As a 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
- prioritise 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).
- Starting salaries in the NHS range from £22,128 to £28,746 (Band 5).
- With experience and/or specialist knowledge, you can earn a salary of £26,565 to £35,577 (Band 6).
- As a senior biomedical scientist, you can expect to earn £31,696 to £48,514 (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 pay rates.
Figures are intended as a guide only.
If you're employed by the NHS, you'll generally work a standard 37.5 hour week. A flexible approach to work is essential to cover day, evening, night and weekend working.
Some opportunities exist for part-time work or job sharing. Self-employment is unlikely as it's 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 you may be doing 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.
You'll need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work as a biomedical scientist in the UK.
To achieve this you need to complete a BSc (Hons) degree in biomedical science accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) or approved by the HCPC. You will also need to successfully complete a period of clinical laboratory training in an IBMS-approved laboratory, where you'll complete the IBMS Registration Portfolio.
IBMS-accredited undergraduate biomedical science degrees are offered by universities on a full-time, part-time, sandwich and integrated basis.
Integrated degrees will include a laboratory placement in an IBMS-approved laboratory, during which you'll complete the IBMS Registration Training Portfolio. On successful completion of your degree, you will be awarded an IBMS Certificate of Competence to show you're eligible to apply to the HCPC for registration as a biomedical scientist.
If your IBMS-accredited degree doesn't have an integrated placement, you'll need to arrange a laboratory placement and complete the IBMS Registration Training Portfolio either during a sandwich year or once you've finished your degree.
Alternatively, you can take a BSc (Hons) degree in healthcare science (life sciences) through the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP), which 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. Completion of the IBMS Registration Training Portfolio is integral to this programme.
It's also possible to work as a trainee biomedical scientist if you have A-levels (or equivalent) 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 or as part of an IBMS-accredited apprenticeship programme.
If your degree isn't accredited by the IBMS, contact them to have your degree assessed and they'll advise on whether or not you need additional academic education. See the IBMS website for a list of accredited degree courses.
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 team working skills
- the ability to work under pressure while maintaining standards of service
- the ability to work alone or under instruction
- attention to detail
- IT skills.
It's worth arranging a visit to a local hospital diagnostic/medical laboratory before applying for courses to get a feel for the type of work carried out.
Many IBMS-accredited courses will offer a placement or sandwich year as part of your degree course. The NHS advertises jobs for laboratory assistants or you could try to set up your own placement.
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.
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:
- Food Standards Agency
- forensic laboratories
- government departments
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- HM armed forces
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- some manufacturing firms, especially those producing pharmaceutical products
- veterinary services.
There are also opportunities to work on healthcare projects worldwide with international non-governmental and voluntary organisations such as:
Look for jobs vacancies at:
- Biomedical Scientist Jobs
- Careerscene - the biomedical science career network
- New Scientist Jobs
- NHS Jobs
In the first two years after registering with the HCPC, you'll normally continue your professional development by taking the IBMS Specialist Diploma, a specialised professional qualification. The Diploma is offered in a range of disciplines:
- cellular pathology
- clinical biochemistry
- clinical immunology
- haematology with hospital transfusion practice
- histocompatibility and immunogenetics
- medical microbiology
- transfusion science
You'll need to provide evidence of your training, specialist knowledge, practical skills and competency via a portfolio, laboratory tour and oral examination.
It's also possible to take the IBMS Diploma in Biomedical Science and Diploma of Specialist Practice.
As your career develops, there are opportunities to take IBMS higher and expert qualifications. These are aimed at biomedical scientists looking to move into management or who want to show advanced skills in their specialist area. At the highest level, you can work towards IBMS Advanced Specialist Diplomas. It's also possible to further your knowledge and expertise via an MSc or PhD. For details of post-registration professional development opportunities, see IBMS Education.
With the right combination of experience, knowledge and skills, you may be eligible for registered scientist (RSci) or chartered scientist (CSci) status through the Science Council. For full registration criteria, see the Science Council professional registers.
Opportunities for career development are generally good. There's a set career structure in place in the NHS and you'll need to show you have the required skills, experience and knowledge to progress through the pay bands.
Upon qualification, many biomedical scientists choose to specialise in a particular area of biomedical science and progress to senior and specialist roles.
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 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.
Find out how Hannah became a biomedical scientist at BBC Bitesize.