If you're scientifically minded, have an interest in hearing and balance and enjoy helping people, consider becoming a clinical scientist specialising in audiology

As a clinical scientist working in audiology, you'll assess, diagnose and manage patients who have hearing, balance and tinnitus problems.

Work involves identifying and assessing hearing and balance functions through administering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and recommending and providing appropriate treatment.

Types of work

The main areas of work are:

  • adult assessment and rehabilitation
  • paediatrics
  • research and development
  • special needs groups, e.g. patients with multi-sensory impairment
  • teaching.

Responsibilities

As a clinical scientist working in audiology, you'll need to:

  • administer auditory tests for babies, children and adults
  • interpret and report on test results
  • develop and improve test techniques
  • recommend individual patient care management plans
  • advise on the selection, fitting and evaluation of hearing aids
  • research new advances in hearing aid technology, such as digital hearing aids
  • test and maintain implanted devices, such as cochlear implants
  • operate audiometric equipment
  • conduct research into disorders affecting hearing and balance
  • counsel patients and help with their rehabilitation
  • teach and train other healthcare professionals
  • work as part of a multidisciplinary team of specialists, which may include ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons and other hospital specialists, such as neurologists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, paediatricians and teachers of hearing-impaired people
  • manage audiology services, including monitoring and improving the quality of service provided.

Your responsibilities will vary depending on your level of experience. Those with more experience generally carry out the non-routine aspects of audiology, involving complex hearing and balance investigations that require a high level of responsibility and competence.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates consisting of nine pay bands. Trainee clinical scientists are usually employed at Band 6, starting at £31,365.
  • Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 7 - £38,890 to £44,503.
  • Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £45,753 (Band 8) to £104,927 (Band 9), depending on your experience and training.

Those working in London and the surrounding areas may receive a high-cost area supplement of between 5% and 20% of their basic salary.

Salaries for jobs outside the NHS may vary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work a standard 37.5 hour week. In some roles this may include occasional weekends.

Part-time work is possible.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work in a hospital consultation room, although it's possible to work in universities in a research or teaching role. You'll need to enjoy working as part of a healthcare team and feel comfortable working with patients who may be in distress.
  • Jobs are available in hospitals throughout the UK.
  • During training, there's an opportunity to experience work in a variety of different hospital laboratories. You may have to travel to other training centres as part of the programme rotations. As the centres may be in other parts of the country, you may have to stay there for a few weeks at a time. You'll also have to travel to university to complete an accredited part-time Masters degree.
  • Once qualified, you won't usually have to travel, but may need to visit other hospitals or clinics. At a senior level, however, you'll be expected to travel to local and national meetings and events, to provide training and give presentations.
  • Audiology is a rapidly developing field as the number of people suffering from significant hearing loss increases.

Qualifications

Training to become a clinical scientist working in audiology is done via the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), a three-year, full-time, work-based learning and training programme that also includes academic study at Masters level.

To apply to the programme you'll need either a first or 2:1 undergraduate degree or an integrated Masters degree in a subject related to clinical physiology.

You can also apply if you have a 2:2 undergraduate degree in any subject and have a higher degree in a relevant subject.

Evidence of research experience through a relevant Masters or PhD is also desirable. For all applicants, getting good academic results and relevant work experience is helpful. 

Applications to the STP are made via Oriel, the online application portal for postgraduate training programmes in medicine, dentistry and public health. Recruitment usually takes place in January, but check the Oriel website for details. You must pass all stages of the recruitment process, which includes an online application, aptitude tests and interviews.

If successful, you'll be employed by an NHS Trust (or in some cases by an NHS private partner or private healthcare provider) as a trainee clinical scientist on a fixed-term contract for the duration of the programme and paid a salary. The first year of training is spent on rotation in a range of settings before specialising in years two and three. Training includes fully funded part-time study for an approved and accredited Masters degree specialising in neurosensory sciences.

If you already work for the NHS, you can apply to the STP as an internal candidate.

On successful completion of the STP you're eligible to apply for a Certificate of Attainment from the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS), which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

For full details on the STP, advice on how to apply and information on competition ratios for each specialism, see the NSHCS website.

For information on STP training in Wales, see Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW). There are separate scientist training schemes in:

Other routes to HCPC registration as a clinical scientist are offered by the:

If you don't already have a degree, you can apply for the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP), which provides undergraduate training that leads to a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science (Audiology). Courses are full time, usually three years, and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS. After graduation you can apply to enter the NHS in a healthcare science practitioner role or choose to apply for the STP.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • a scientific background and an interest in audiology
  • excellent oral and written communication skills and the ability to relate to patients of all ages
  • patience and empathy to deal with patients who may be in distress
  • manual dexterity
  • an analytical and investigative mind
  • teamworking skills as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including other medical professionals
  • the ability to work independently and use your initiative
  • meticulous attention to detail
  • time management skills
  • the ability to solve problems and research alternative solutions
  • a self-motivated and confident approach to work, to gain the most from training placements in busy hospital departments
  • the ability to lead and motivate others
  • a willingness to keep up to date with the latest scientific and medical research in audiology.

Work experience

Competition for entry on to the STP is keen. To improve your chances, try and get some work experience within a hospital audiology department. Arrange a visit to a department in your local hospital to find out more about the role and see if you can work shadow a clinical scientist working in audiology.

If the chance arises, attend an open day for your specialism to gain a better insight into the role and STP programme. Additional experience, such as involvement with research projects and publications, is also useful.

Employers

Many clinical scientists working in audiology are employed in ear, nose and throat clinics or audiology departments in NHS hospitals. There are opportunities to work in private hospitals and in the independent sector.

Opportunities are also available with cochlear implant companies and working for a cochlear implant service within the NHS.

You may choose to follow a research career, working in a university, or work in industry for a company that develops and manufactures hearing technology.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). You must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in your area of expertise, as well as building on your management skills.

CPD activities can be anything from which you learn and develop and may include:

  • work-based learning, such as in service training, expanding your role
  • professional activities, e.g. being involved in a professional body
  • self-directed learning, such as reading articles and published papers
  • attending conferences, workshops and lectures
  • publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • presenting research and papers at conferences
  • undertaking work exchanges abroad
  • undertaking research at PhD level
  • applying for research grants.

Membership of the BAA provides opportunities to network with fellow professionals, as well as access to advice and support, and CPD events and conferences. Courses cover areas such as:

  • adult hearing loss
  • implantable hearing technology
  • leadership
  • paediatric assessment
  • tinnitus adviser training.

Once you've got experience (usually at least one year post-registration), you may apply to train to become a consultant clinical scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) programme. This bespoke five-year, workplace-based training programme includes study at doctoral level at a standard similar to medical speciality training.

Successful completion of the HSST programme leads to the award of Certificate of Completion of Higher Specialist Scientist Training (CCHSST) issued by the NSHCS. For full details, see HSST pathways.

You can also study for a traditional PhD and get involved in research.

Career prospects

There is a structured career path within the NHS. Once qualified, you can progress through the grades by gaining experience and completing further training, study and research. Promotion is based on merit and you may need to move to other hospitals to make the most of available opportunities.

As you gain experience, it's usual to specialise in a particular area of audiology such as:

  • auditory rehabilitation
  • bone anchored hearing devices
  • cochlear implants
  • paediatrics
  • tinnitus.

As your career develops, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of your department. Progression to consultant involves further training via the HSST programme. Promotion to deputy head or head of department is likely to involve the management of a large department or major departmental section. It's possible to gain a senior position by making a significant contribution in your area of expertise.

There are also opportunities to move into research and teaching, working for a university or research institute, or to get involved in training and registration assessments.

You can also develop your career by getting involved with professional bodies, taking on external professional roles or moving into advisory roles. You could also move into general management roles within the NHS.

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