Clinical scientists working in physiological sciences examine the functioning of organs and body systems in order to diagnose abnormalities and disease

As a clinical scientist working in physiological sciences, you'll use specialist equipment and techniques to measure and evaluate, for example, the functioning of hearing and balance, or of organs such as the heart, lungs and brain in patients who may be seriously ill or have long-term health problems.

You'll record and report the physiological data you obtain to help diagnose disease, plan treatment and measure the effects of previous treatment. In some cases, you will also provide critical care intervention and manage long-term care.

You'll often work in hospitals, although there are also opportunities to work in the community visiting patients.

Types of work

Clinical scientists in physiological sciences work in a range of specialties:

  • audiology
  • cardiac science
  • critical care science
  • gastrointestinal physiology
  • neurophysiology
  • ophthalmic and vision science
  • respiratory and sleep sciences
  • urodynamic science
  • vascular science.

Training places are available via the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) on an annual basis. Some specialties will have more places available than others, and not all specialties are available every year.

For more information, see The Physiological Society.

Responsibilities

Job titles and responsibilities will vary according to your specialism. However, in general you're likely to:

  • use specialised equipment to perform clinical physiological tests
  • record and analyse physiological data from equipment in order to help medical staff diagnose or manage conditions
  • report physiological data to help diagnose disease, identify treatment regimes and measure the effects of treatment
  • measure the functions of a patient's body, such as digestion or breathing
  • get patients and equipment into correct locations and positions for monitoring
  • give assistance and reassurance to patients during their medical tests and/or operations
  • monitor patients' conditions and provide them with relevant information and instructions to help educate them about their care
  • maintain and calibrate equipment, including therapeutic and diagnostic equipment used in patients' homes
  • ensure the safe use of expensive and complex equipment and any related substances
  • report equipment faults and ensure that appropriate levels of medical consumables are maintained
  • 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.

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 around £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, responsibilities 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.

Part-time work is available.

What to expect

  • Work is mostly hospital-based, either in operating theatres, in outpatient departments and clinics or on the wards. Some hospitals provide services to smaller community hospitals or within community settings, including patients' homes.
  • Work is carried out as part of a multidisciplinary team alongside a range of health and social care professionals such as nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists and porters.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the country. However, there are only a relatively small number of jobs available and you may need to relocate to increase your chances of career progression.
  • Physiological scientists are often responsible for patients' health when they're seriously ill. You may also have to deal with unwilling or uncooperative patients.
  • During training, there is an opportunity to experience working in a variety of different hospitals. 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 the university to complete your Masters degree.

Qualifications

Training to become a clinical scientist working in physiological sciences 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, physiology, pure or applied physics, engineering, biology, human biology or sports science (depending on the amount of scientific content).

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). You will need to choose which physiological science specialty you wish to train in:

  • audiology
  • cardiac science
  • critical care science
  • gastrointestinal physiology
  • neurophysiology
  • ophthalmic and vision science
  • respiratory and sleep sciences
  • urodynamic science
  • vascular science.

Not all specialties are available each year, so check on the NSHCS website.

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 your chosen area of specialism.

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) for some specialties, which provides undergraduate training that leads to a BSc Hons Healthcare Science. Relevant programme themes are cardiovascular, respiratory and sleep sciences, and neurosensory sciences. 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. It's also possible to apply for the STP.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • laboratory skills and the ability to plan and design research investigations and experiments
  • manual dexterity, coordination and sensory skills
  • 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
  • the ability to make judgements that impact on patients
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both written and spoken
  • good active listening skills for communicating with patients
  • good IT skills, as most laboratories are computerised
  • teamworking skills in order to work collaboratively
  • the ability to work independently
  • the skills to lead and motivate others
  • attention to detail and the ability to work with speed and accuracy
  • a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • the ability to work under pressure and to plan and prioritise your workload
  • a high level of self-motivation, emotional resilience, reliability and good self-awareness.
  • 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 and there are many more applicants than places. To improve your chances, try to get a placement in a hospital department. Arrange visits to hospital departments or make speculative applications for short-term work experience in relevant departments and clinics.

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

The majority of clinical scientists working in physiological sciences spend most of their career working for the NHS in hospital clinics and departments, or as part of a surgical team. Some, however, work in the community and will visit patients at home or school. There are also opportunities in the private healthcare sector in hospitals and clinics.

You could also work for a university, carrying out research. These posts are often linked to related university hospitals.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also check professional bodies representing different areas of the physiological sciences.

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. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC. CPD activities can be any activities 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.

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.

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.

Career prospects vary depending on your area of clinical specialism, for example cardiac science or audiology. Within each of these areas, there is the possibility to specialise further, for example in echocardiographic techniques or cochlear implants.

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 to 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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