If you have a degree in biochemistry or a related subject and have excellent analytical and communication skills, consider a career as a clinical scientist specialising in biochemistry
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 new and existing tests, which can involve significant manual expertise
- devise and conduct basic or applied research
- write reports and funding bids
- 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:
- train and mentor staff, supervise MSc students and give lectures to medical undergraduates
- submit bids for funding
- undertake clinical research
- 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 £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.
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, although you may be required to work a shift pattern, including weekends and nights.
Part-time work is possible.
What to expect
- Work usually takes place in a hospital laboratory, although you may also be based 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, but you won't usually need to stay away overnight.
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 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 in blood sciences with a specialism in clinical biochemistry.
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 the Workforce, Education and Development Services (WEDS). There are separate scientist training schemes in:
- Scotland - NHS Scotland - Clinical Scientist (Life sciences)
- Northern Ireland - NI Direct Healthcare Scientist
Other routes to HCPC registration as a clinical scientist are offered by the:
You'll need to have:
- laboratory skills and the ability to plan and do research
- strong problem-solving skills
- an analytical and investigative mind
- excellent oral and written communication skills
- good IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised
- the ability to use your own initiative
- meticulous attention to detail
- the ability to work effectively as part of a team
- the ability to lead and motivate others
- a self-motivated and confident approach to work, to gain the most from training placements in busy hospital departments
- a willingness to keep up to date with the latest scientific and medical research in clinical biochemistry.
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 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.
Most clinical scientists working in biochemistry are employed in clinical biochemistry/chemical pathology departments in hospitals.
You may need to change employers during the early part of your career, as posts are geographically widespread and there won't necessarily be a vacancy in the hospital where you did your training.
There may be some opportunities in industrial companies, particularly diagnostics pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Jobs.ac.uk - for jobs in academia
- New Scientist Jobs - for recruitment on to the STP and also jobs when qualified
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
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 laboratory and 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.
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. You'll also need to obtain Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) to successfully complete the HSST programme.
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.
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.
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 the diagnostics and pharmaceutical industries.