Clinical scientists working in immunology are involved in diagnosing and managing disorders of the immune system

As a clinical scientist working in immunology, you'll prepare, carry out and analyse tests on patients with a range of immune system disorders, including:

  • allergy
  • autoimmune disorders - where the body's defence system attacks itself (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis)
  • primary immunodeficiency - where part of the immune system is missing or doesn't function as it should
  • antibody deficiency.

You will interpret test results and report them to requesting clinicians, advising on further testing where necessary.

You'll usually work in specialist departments of hospitals as part of a team that includes medical doctors specialising in immunology and biomedical scientists (immunology).

Doctors who specialise in immunology follow a very different qualification route. For more information on this career path, see hospital doctor.

Responsibilities

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

  • request complex immunology tests for clinicians
  • receive and prepare samples for analysis
  • analyse samples using computer-aided and manual techniques
  • interpret, verify and validate results and report findings to the requesting clinician
  • make decisions on further immunological analysis and recommend additional tests where appropriate to help with the diagnostic process
  • liaise with doctors and other medical professionals to discuss patient tests and treatment plans
  • advise on specific types of treatment for individual patients
  • produce quantitative data in the form of reports and provide key information to medical staff about a patient's condition
  • help colleagues to interpret test results
  • select appropriate techniques for different types of immunological analysis
  • undertake research in order to better understand immunology-related diseases
  • keep accurate and detailed records.

At a senior level, you may also need to:

  • teach or train immunology students and other related hospital staff
  • apply for and manage departmental and/or laboratory finances and resources
  • take responsibility for working towards targets
  • liaise with immunology colleagues on a regional or national basis.

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 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.

Salaries 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 generally work a 37.5 hour week, Monday to Friday. You may also be required to work a shift pattern.

Opportunities for part-time work are available.

What to expect

  • If you're working in a laboratory-based role, you'll liaise closely with medical and other hospital staff. In a clinical role you'll have more direct contact with patients and their families, as well as other clinical professionals.
  • Jobs are available in hospitals throughout the UK although you may need to relocate to progress your career as there are only a few dedicated laboratories in each NHS region.
  • Self-employment is rare due to the specialised equipment and materials required to do the job.
  • In addition to clinical immunology, you can also work in academic settings and in industrial research.
  • You may need to visit other hospitals or clinics, but travel during your working day is uncommon.

Qualifications

Training to become a clinical scientist working in immunology 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 subject such as biomedical sciences, biological sciences, immunology, 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.

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 blood sciences - clinical immunology.

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:

Other routes to HCPC registration as a clinical scientist are offered by the:

If your undergraduate degree is accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) you can apply for trainee biomedical scientist posts in the NHS and ultimately register with the HCPC as a biomedical scientist. Some biomedical scientists specialise in immunology.

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 (Life sciences - Blood sciences). Courses are full time (usually three years) and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS. After graduation you 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

In addition to your scientific and laboratory skills, you'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills, to pass on findings and give advice on diagnosis to other staff as well as to give formal presentations to colleagues
  • 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 team work skills as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including doctors and other healthcare staff
  • 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
  • project management skills
  • IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised
  • a commitment to lifelong learning.

Work experience

Entry on to the training scheme is competitive and there are more applicants than places. Familiarity with hospitals and clinics is important, so try to arrange a visit to a local hospital immunology department before applying and see if you can work shadow a clinical scientist working in immunology.

Related experience is useful, so investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience in an immunology department. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in immunology 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.

Employers

Most clinical scientists working in immunology are employed in immunology laboratories in NHS hospitals.

Other employers include:

  • independent and academic laboratories within the pharmaceutical industry
  • government agencies such as Public Health England (to become part of the National Institute for Health Protection from Spring 2021)
  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • scientific Civil Service.

You may choose to follow a research career, working in a university or research institute. Alternatively, you could work in industry for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, who employ immunologists to improve their understanding of the immune system and how to apply this to the development of new medical products and therapies.

It's also possible to work in veterinary science, researching animal healthcare and treating animals with infections or immunological disorders.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

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.

You'll usually undertake further study and training with a relevant professional body, such as the BSI, or study for a PhD. Membership of the BSI also provides opportunities to network with fellow professionals and access to advice and support.

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.

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. Some immunologists choose to work in industry or the scientific Civil Service.

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