As a clinical scientist working in biochemistry you'll analyse samples taken from patients' blood, urine or other bodily fluids to help with the diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases
Often based in a hospital laboratory, you'll interpret and validate the results of these samples and advise clinicians and GPs on the correct use of tests and any necessary follow up investigations.
As a clinical scientist working in biochemistry you'll need to:
- plan and organise work in clinical biochemistry laboratories, much of which is automated and computer assisted
- carry out analyses on specimens of body fluids and tissues
- perform clinical validation by checking abnormal results and deciding if further tests are necessary
- audit the use and diagnostic performance of tests
- identify and resolve any poor analytical performance problems
- develop existing and new tests, which can involve significant manual expertise
- devise and conduct basic or applied research
- write reports
- make service improvement recommendations to clinical leads and managers
- liaise with clinical and healthcare staff, and have some contact with patients
- apply your clinical biochemistry skills to prevent disease and keep patients healthy.
As your career progresses you're likely to:
- provide training and mentoring to clinical, medical and laboratory staff
- supervise MSc students and give lectures to medical undergraduates
- write and submit bids for funding
- undertake clinical research
- manage resources and budgets
- manage a clinical biochemical laboratory.
- 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 £32,306.
- Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 7 - £40,057 to £45,839.
- Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £47,126 (Band 8) to £108,075 (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.
Salary levels for clinical scientists working for private companies, universities, government bodies and other organisations may vary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll usually work a 37.5 hour week and may work a shift pattern, including weekends and nights, as laboratory services operate on a 24/7 basis.
It's possible to work part time following successful completion of training.
Career breaks may be possible but you must keep up to date with any technical developments and you'll need to retrain on your return to work in order to meet Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration requirements.
What to expect
- Work usually takes place in a hospital clinical biochemistry or chemical pathology laboratory, although you may also work at the point of care, for example in clinics and operating theatres.
- You'll work as part of a team with other healthcare professionals such as pathologists, biomedical scientists and other clinicians, including GPs.
- Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, particularly in large and medium-sized hospitals. 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 may have to travel between hospitals sites.
Training to become a clinical scientist working in biochemistry 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 life sciences. Relevant subjects include:
- biomedical sciences
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 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 medical, dental, public health, healthcare science and pre-registration pharmacy training programmes. 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 situational judgement test (JST), online application and interviews with employers. Sample questions for the JST are available on the Pearson VUE website.
Not all specialties are recruited to each year and depend on NHS needs, so you should check before applying that your specialty is available.
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.
- a programme of workplace training
- fully-funded, part-time study for an approved and accredited Masters degree in blood sciences with a specialism in clinical biochemistry
- a final assessment of competence.
If you already work for the NHS, you can apply to the STP as an internal candidate.
On successful completion of the STP you will be issued with a Certificate of Completion for the Scientist Training Programme (CCSTP) by the NSHCS and can apply for 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:
- Association of Clinical Scientists - Certificate of Attainment.
- Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) - Certificate of Equivalence.
You'll need to have:
- laboratory skills and the ability to plan and carry out research
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills, to pass on findings and give advice on diagnosis to other staff as well as to give formal presentations to colleagues
- an analytical and investigative mind in order to assess scientific, technical and medical literature
- effective problem-solving skills and the ability to use your initiative and work independently
- strong team work skills as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including doctors and other healthcare staff
- meticulous documentation and record keeping skills
- attention to detail and the ability to work with speed and accuracy
- the ability to work under pressure and to plan and prioritise your work load
- a self-motivated and confident approach to work, to gain the most from training placements in busy hospital departments
- a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, new technologies and techniques
- the skills to lead and motivate others
- project management skills
- IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised
- a commitment to lifelong learning.
Competition for entry on to the STP is keen. Familiarity with hospitals and clinics is important, so try to arrange a visit to your local hospital clinical biochemistry or chemical pathology department before applying and see if you can work shadow a clinical scientist working in biochemistry.
Related experience is useful, so investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience in a biochemistry department. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in biochemistry in your local NHS Trust hospital to discuss the career and opportunities for experience.
If you're studying a relevant degree or Masters programme then you may have the opportunity to complete a placement as part of your course.
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.
For free mentoring resources and experiences designed to support aspiring healthcare and legal professionals - including virtual work experience that is accepted by medical schools, see Medic Mentor.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Most clinical scientists working in biochemistry are employed in clinical biochemistry/chemical pathology departments in hospitals.
There may be some opportunities in industrial companies, particularly diagnostics, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
Look for job vacancies at:
- New Scientist Jobs
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales.
- NHSScotland Jobs
- Jobs.hscni.net - for vacancies in Northern Ireland.
Once qualified, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in research and analysis techniques, as well as building on your laboratory and management skills. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC.
CPD activities can be any activity 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.
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. You'll also need to achieve Fellowship of The Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath).
Successful completion of the HSST programme leads to the award of Certificate of Completion of Higher Specialist Scientist Training (CCHSST) issued by the NSHCS, which you can use to join the AHCS HSS Register.
Membership of The Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB) is useful for networking opportunities and access to expert advice and training for those studying for FRCPath.
If you decide to progress into academic or research roles within a university setting, you'll need to get your research published in a relevant journal and present it at conferences.
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.
With experience you can specialise in a particular area such as endocrinology, toxicology, immunology or molecular biology.
As your career develops, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of the laboratory. 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 opportunities to move into clinical research 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 or into industry.