Clinical scientists working in cardiac science perform a variety of technical and medical diagnostic procedures to assess patients' cardiac function
As a clinical scientist working in cardiac science, 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.
You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team including anaesthetists, cardiologists, healthcare science practitioners, nurses, operating department practitioners, radiographers and surgeons.
Doctors who specialise in cardiology follow a very different qualification route. For more information, see cardiologist.
As a clinical scientist working in cardiac science you'll be trained to:
- carry out echocardiography (which involves the use of ultrasound) to obtain images 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
- assist with pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implantation operations, and perform follow up procedures and monitoring
- program and analyse pacemaker or ICD devices to ensure that they're functioning correctly
- monitor patients' heart pressure, heart rhythm and rate 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
- interpret, evaluate and report the results of tests, thereby providing 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 be trained to:
- teach, train or supervise trainee clinical scientists and other members of the healthcare team
- carry out research, audits and service evaluations 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 £31,365.
- Once qualified, you'll usually be employed on Band 7 - £38,890 to £44,503.
- Salaries for 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 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/on-call work.
Opportunities for part-time work are available.
What to expect
- 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.
- Jobs are available in hospitals throughout the UK.
- During training, there's an opportunity to experience work in a variety of different hospitals. 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 may also have the opportunity to travel to university to complete an accredited part-time Masters degree.
- You won't usually have to travel once qualified, but may need to visit other hospitals or clinics. At a senior level, you'll be expected to travel to local and national meetings and events to provide training and give presentations.
Training to become a clinical scientist working in cardiac science 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 relevant physiological sciences subject, such as biology, human biology or 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 cardiac science.
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:
- 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:
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 in cardiac physiology. 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.
You'll need to have:
- excellent interpersonal and communication skills, as this role involves direct contact with patients
- scientific knowledge and technical ability, as you have to be comfortable using modern technology and complex equipment
- the ability to organise and carry out research
- 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 teamworking skills, as you'll be working within a multidisciplinary team, including doctors and other healthcare professionals
- 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 high level of self-motivation, emotional resilience, reliability and good self-awareness
- a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, new technologies and techniques
- the ability to make judgements that impact on patients' lives
- the skills to lead and motivate others and to progress into a senior role
- project management skills
- a commitment to lifelong learning.
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.
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.
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, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in research and analysis techniques. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC and can 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.
Professional development courses are run by the Society for Cardiological Science and Technology (SCST).
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.
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 science. For example, you could specialise in an investigation such as echocardiography with a focus on stress or transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE). Alternatively, you could work with a specific patient population, such as those with heart failure. 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. 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 a consultancy role. It's also possible to move into industry as a clinical applications specialist, working on behalf of a company that sells cardiac diagnostic equipment, for example.