If you have strong scientific ability and good interpersonal and analytical skills, then a career working as a clinical scientist in cardiac sciences could be for you
As a clinical scientist (or healthcare scientist) working in cardiac sciences, you'll use a variety of technical and medical procedures to assess patients' cardiac functioning.
Working in a team with other healthcare science staff, you'll have direct contact with patients of all ages who have known or suspected heart disease. You'll carry out complex diagnostic, monitoring and analytical tests and will also be involved in interventional procedures such as pacemaker implantation.
Job titles include healthcare scientist, clinical scientist and cardiac scientist.
Doctors who specialise in cardiology follow a very different qualification route. For more information, see cardiologist.
As a clinical scientist working in cardiac sciences you'll need to:
- carry out echocardiograms (which involves the use of ultrasound) to obtain pictures of a patient's heart, and diagnose diseases which may affect its structure or function
- monitor patients as they undergo exercise stress tests (usually on a treadmill) to check if the blood vessels in their hearts are functioning correctly
- perform pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implantation operations, follow up procedures and monitoring
- programme and measure pacemaker or ICD devices to ensure that they're working correctly
- monitor a patient's physiology during medical procedures such as angiogram, angioplasty and pacemaker implantation
- carry out other procedures such as electrocardiography to detect rhythm or structural abnormalities within a patient's heart
- discuss treatment and procedures with patients and/or parents and carers
- evaluate the results of tests and provide key information about a patient's condition to other medical professionals such as cardiologists and surgeons
- maintain accurate and detailed records.
At more senior levels, you'll need to:
- teach, train or supervise trainee clinical scientists and other members of the healthcare team
- carry out research in addition to carrying out diagnostic tests
- undertake management tasks where you may oversee resources, such as staffing, budgets or equipment.
- Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates, which consist of nine pay bands. Trainee clinical scientists are usually employed at Band 6, starting at £28,050.
- Once qualified, you'll usually be employed on Band 7 (£33,222 to £43,041).
- Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £42,414 (Band 8) to £102,506 (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 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, which may include shift work. It's possible to work part time after completing your training.
Career breaks may be possible, but you must keep up to date with any technical developments and will need to retrain on your return to work in order to meet Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration requirements.
What to expect
- Jobs are available throughout the UK. However, due to the levels of competition for the Scientist Training Programme (STP), and the scarcity of STP posts available, you may need to relocate to gain your first position.
- You're likely to work in a busy, fast-paced NHS department, dealing with a high level of patient numbers.
- You'll have a lot of direct contact with patients, ranging from babies to the elderly, who may be very distressed.
- You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team including anaesthetists, cardiologists, healthcare science practitioners, nurses, operating department practitioners, radiographers and surgeons.
- Travel during the working day is uncommon, although you may sometimes need to work at other hospitals or clinics.
To become a clinical scientist working in cardiac sciences, you'll need to complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). In order to apply, you'll usually need a first or 2:1 degree in a relevant physiological sciences subject, such as biology, human biology, physiology or sports science, or a 2:2 with a relevant Masters or PhD.
Evidence of research experience (for example, through a relevant Masters or PhD) is also desirable. For example, sports science graduates with a postgraduate qualification in cardiac sciences, such as an MSc in clinical exercise physiology, may be at an advantage.
Entry onto the STP is highly competitive, and each year there are many more applicants than there are places available. If you're successful in getting a place, you'll be employed in a cardiac sciences role within the NHS on a three-year paid training programme, which includes work-based and academic learning. Training also includes study for an approved and accredited Masters degree specialising in physiological sciences or cardiac sciences.
You need to apply for a place on the STP via the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) website. Recruitment usually takes place in January but check the site regularly for details.
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 HCPC. See the NSHCS website for full details on how to apply.
For information on STP training in Wales, see the NHS Wales Workforce, Education and Development Services (WEDS). There are separate clinical scientist training schemes in:
- Scotland - NHS Education for Scotland - Clinical Scientists
- Northern Ireland - NI Direct - Healthcare Scientist
If you don't already have a degree, you can apply for the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP), which provides undergraduate training leading to a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science in cardiac physiology. After graduation you can apply to enter the NHS in a healthcare science practitioner role. It may be possible later on to apply for the STP, which offers pay on a higher scale and more opportunities for career progression. There are certain rules in place if you wish to apply for in-service entry.
You'll need to have:
- strong interpersonal and communication skills, as this role involves direct contact with patients
- good scientific knowledge and technical ability, as you have to be comfortable using modern technology and complex equipment
- good team-working skills, as you'll be working within a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals
- strong leadership skills, to progress into a senior role
- attention to detail, as accuracy is important when carrying out tests or communicating results to other patients or professionals
- the ability to work under pressure when based in a busy NHS department
- a commitment to undertaking continuing professional development (CPD).
Entry on to the STP is competitive, so to improve your chances try and get some work experience in a healthcare setting.
You may find it useful to work shadow a clinical scientist working in cardiac sciences to gain a more thorough understanding of the job role. Contact the cardiac department at your local hospital to try to arrange a visit or speak to your university careers service or academic staff at your university to see if they have any relevant contacts.
Alternatively, you could consider some general volunteering, for example on an NHS hospital ward, to give you an insight in to what it's like to work in an NHS setting and to show your commitment. You could also work as a healthcare assistant or do some paid or voluntary work in a care setting, for example in a care home or hospice.
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.
The main employer of clinical scientists working in cardiac sciences in the UK is the NHS, where you'll work in cardiology departments. Trainees are usually employed by an NHS teaching hospital.
Opportunities also exist with:
- private healthcare providers, such as BUPA and Nuffield Health
- organisations that provide cardiac screening services such as Cardiac Risk in the Young
- universities, for example in a research or teaching role.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Jobs.ac.uk - for jobs in academia
- New Scientist Jobs
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
Once qualified, it's important to keep your skills up to date as CPD is an essential part of continuing your registration with the HCPC. This can include attending conferences, workshops and lectures. The Society for Cardiological Science and Technology (SCST) also run professional development courses.
Once you're qualified and have further experience, you may be able to train to become a consultant clinical scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientist Training HSST scheme. This five-year, work-based training programme includes study towards Doctorate-level qualifications in cardiac sciences.
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 study and research. Promotion is based on merit and you may have to move to other hospitals to make the most of available opportunities.
As you acquire more experience and knowledge, you can move into more specialised roles within cardiac sciences. For example, you could specialise in echocardiography with a focus on stress, transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) or quantitative analysis. There are also opportunities to provide contrast echocardiography or even to lead in valve or heart failure clinics. You'll need enhanced skills in leadership and patient management to take on these types of role.
As your career develops, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of your department or major departmental section. Progression to principal scientist, consultant and then deputy head or head of department involves further training and 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.
Once in a more senior role you're likely to perform additional teaching activities and may work in university departments in both research and teaching capacities. You could also move into a consultancy role or a career in industry as a clinical applications specialist, working on behalf of a company that sells cardiac diagnostic equipment, for example.