Clinical scientists working in embryology are involved in fertility treatment and reproductive research

As a clinical scientist working in embryology, you'll perform diagnostic services and therapeutic embryological procedures, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), at hospitals and clinics. You'll also be involved in the collection, storing and fertilisation of eggs from patients.

Within the field of reproductive sciences, it's also possible to work in andrology, focusing on male reproduction.

Jobs may be advertised as clinical embryologist or embryologist.

Responsibilities

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

  • determine patients' fertility levels
  • speak to patients about specific fertility treatment options
  • research infertility solutions with other medical, nursing and counselling staff
  • use assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to help with infertility
  • collect eggs and sperm (gametes) from patients for processing
  • test the suitability of each gamete
  • prepare gametes and the environment for IVF and facilitate fertilisation
  • maintain the viability of gametes, tissues and embryos during processing
  • select embryos for transfer to recipient women, research or other intended use and implant embryos into patients' reproductive organs
  • monitor embryo development
  • monitor and maintain cryobanks, and preserve gametes and embryos for future use
  • comply with quality control, ethical issues and regulations surrounding gamete and embryo handling
  • maintain and care for equipment
  • keep accurate and detailed patient records.

Salary

  • Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates consisting of nine pay bands. Trainee clinical scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) are on Band 6 of the scale, with salaries starting at £32,306.
  • Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on £40,057 to £45,839 (Band 7).
  • Salaries for principal scientists and consultant scientists, the highest grade at which clinical scientists work, range from £47,126 (Band 8) to £108,075 (Band 9) for the most senior roles.

If you're working in London and the surrounding areas you may receive a high-cost area supplement of between 5% and 20% of your 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.

Working hours

Working hours are generally a standard 37.5 hours per week, although you may be required to work a shift pattern.

Flexible and part-time work is generally available following successful completion of training.

What to expect

  • The work takes place in a laboratory or clinical setting and is generally carried out as part of a multidisciplinary team, including obstetricians and gynaecologists, doctors, specialist nurses and counsellors.
  • You'll need a practical and theoretical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and ART, and must keep up to date with current regulations and legislation.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, but are found mainly in larger hospitals or fertility clinics in urban areas. As a trainee, there are opportunities to experience working in different settings. You may need to relocate to progress your career.
  • The role can be challenging, although contributing to patient fertility can also be rewarding.
  • You may visit other hospitals or clinics as part of your work, but won't typically need to travel. There are some opportunities available in fertility clinics overseas.

Qualifications

Training to become a clinical scientist working in embryology 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 related subject, for example, biomedical sciences, biology, microbiology, genetics or biochemistry .

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

Entry on to the STP is competitive, and 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 through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS). Recruitment usually takes place in January, but check the 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 clinical science (cellular sciences - reproductive science) or in clinical science (andrology).

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 about the STP, advice on how to apply and information on competition ratios, 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:

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • laboratory skills, and the ability to plan and design research investigations and experiments
  • communication and interpersonal skills, for advising and supporting patients seeking reproductive help
  • active listening skills for communicating with patients
  • teamworking skills, as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including obstetricians and counsellors
  • the ability to work independently
  • the ability to make judgements that impact on patients' lives
  • the skills to lead and motivate others
  • effective problem-solving skills and the ability to use your initiative
  • project management skills
  • an analytical and investigative mind in order to assess scientific, technical and medical literature
  • IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised
  • 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.

Work experience

Entry on to the STP is competitive and there are many more applicants than places. Experience with reproductive biology and familiarity with hospitals and clinics are important, so try to arrange a visit to a local hospital laboratory before applying.

Related experience is useful - investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience in a fertility clinic or assisted conception unit of a large hospital.

It's also worth making speculative approaches to clinics and hospitals. The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) has a list of fertility clinics and embryo research centres. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in embryology in your local NHS Trust hospital to discuss the career and opportunities for experience.

Voluntary work with patients, for example, can also be useful. It's good to have a range of life experiences so you can show your range of skills. Mentoring experience is also helpful.

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.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

Many clinical scientists working in embryology are employed by the NHS in assisted conception units of large hospitals around the UK. They're also employed by independent providers of fertility treatments. For a list of both NHS and private fertility treatment providers, see the HFEA website.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC. You must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in your area of expertise, as well as build 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.

Membership of ARCS is important as it provides access to events, networking and career development opportunities, as well as support and advice.

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 Scientific 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 FRCPath by passing examinations set by The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath).

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.

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 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 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 advisory roles.

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