Clinical scientists working in genomics examine samples of patients' DNA to identify genetic and genomic abnormalities, which may cause inherited or acquired (non-inherited) diseases

As a clinical scientist working in genomics, you'll analyse and interpret patient samples in order to identify alterations in genes and to help predict whether other family members or future generations are at risk from the abnormality.

The results of your analyses are used by clinicians to inform diagnosis, to develop treatment programmes and also to work out a prognosis.

Types of work

Your work will typically fall into three main categories:

  • prenatal diagnosis - examining cells for possible abnormalities in the foetus, usually where single gene disorders have been identified. Examples include cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.
  • carrier testing - to identify patients who may be at risk from single gene disorders
  • confirmation of diagnosis.

Responsibilities

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

  • use scientific, technical and clinical knowledge to analyse and interpret the results of routine and complex tests carried out by other members of the laboratory
  • write fully interpretive reports for clinicians (including family doctors, consultant neurologists and paediatricians) and other healthcare professionals who have requested tests and advise them on investigation strategies
  • develop and devise new investigation strategies, taking into account the clinical problems of genetic disease and the clinical relevance of inherited or acquired genetic abnormalities
  • participate in research and development and translate any new techniques and assays into routine diagnostic service
  • deal with enquiries relating to genomic testing and provide expert scientific advice to clinical colleagues and other healthcare professionals
  • interpret quality control and quality assurance data
  • undertake continued professional development (CPD).

At a senior level, you may also need to:

  • train and mentor staff, supervise MSc students and give lectures to medical undergraduates
  • lead research activities or programmes
  • take responsibility for a specialist area of service or the management of a laboratory or department.

Salary

  • 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 senior and consultant clinical scientists range from £45,753 (Band 8) to £104,927 (top of 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.

Working hours

You'll usually work a 37.5-hour week, although you may be required to work a shift pattern, including weekends and nights.

What to expect

  • You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary team, including doctors specialising in genomics and genetics, genetic counsellors and other laboratory staff, such as healthcare science practitioners and genetic technologists.
  • Although you'll have very little direct contact with patients, your work will have a large impact on them and their families.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the country, usually in medium-sized or large hospitals. However, there are only a relatively small number of jobs available and you may need to relocate to increase your chances of career progression.
  • During training, you'll have the opportunity to experience working in different hospital laboratories. You may have to travel to other parts of the country to fulfil the training requirements and spend a few weeks there. You'll also have to travel to university to complete your Masters degree.

Qualifications

Training to become a clinical scientist working in genomics 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. Relevant STP programmes are offered for genomics, clinical bioinformatics (genomics) and cancer genomics.

To apply to the programme you'll need either a first or 2:1 undergraduate degree or an integrated Masters degree in genetics, or a related subject with a genetics component, such as molecular biology, human biology, microbiology, biochemistry or cellular 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.

Entry on to the STP is competitive as there are many more applicants than places available. 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 specialising in genetics.

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 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:

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 (Genetics Science). Courses are full time (usually three years) and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS.

After graduation you'll be qualified as a healthcare science practitioner and can usually register as a biomedical scientist with the HCPC. Check that your course is accredited by the IBMS or HCPC approved. It's also possible to apply for the STP.

Skills

You'll need:

  • laboratory skills and the ability to plan and design research investigations and experiments
  • the ability to manage a laboratory project
  • strong problem-solving skills and the ability to use your initiative
  • an analytical and investigative mind in order to assess scientific, technical and medical literature
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both written and oral
  • active listening skills
  • teamworking skills in order to work collaboratively
  • the ability to work independently
  • the ability to work under pressure and to plan and prioritise your workload
  • leadership skills
  • a high level of self-motivation, resilience and reliability
  • good self-awareness
  • a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • good IT skills, as most laboratories are computerised
  • commitment to, and enthusiasm for, scientific practice and its application in a clinical environment to improve patient care.

Work experience

Entry on to the STP is competitive, so to improve your chances try to get an insight into the workings of a hospital laboratory by arranging a visit to your nearest regional genetic laboratory before you apply. You could also try and find short-term work experience in a genetics laboratory.

Lab work can be difficult to obtain, so 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.

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

Most clinical scientists working in genomics are employed in the NHS and are based in laboratories in large hospitals around the UK. Some work for other specialist laboratories and in private hospitals.

It's also possible to follow a research career, working in a university or research institute.

There are also some opportunities with government bodies and non-departmental public bodies, such as NICE.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

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. CPD is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC. Any activities from which you learn and develop count as CPD, 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 the BSGM and ACGS is useful for finding out about events and conferences and for networking with other professionals.

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 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.

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.

Career prospects

There's 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 the field of genetics.

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 with organisations such as NICE or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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