Clinical technologists ensure that the technology and equipment used to diagnose and treat patients in hospitals and other medical settings is safe, accurate, well-maintained and monitored to a high standard

As a clinical technologist you'll use your knowledge of physics or engineering to operate, maintain and monitor hospital equipment and clinical materials. This is a practical role, and your work ensures that every patient receives accurate, safe and efficient diagnosis and treatment.

You’ll typically work as part of a multidisciplinary team that can include clinical scientists, radiologists and radiographers. Depending on your area of work, you may also have some contact with patients.

Clinical technologists are sometimes referred to by alternative job titles such as medical technologist, medical engineer or healthcare science practitioner.

Types of work

Clinical technologists work in one of the following areas, in which they build specialist expertise through their work:

  • radiation physics - testing and maintaining x-ray, ultrasound and MRI equipment, communicating and coordinating with radiologists and radiographers
  • radiotherapy physics - maintaining specialist devices, treatment planning, dosimetry calculations and monitoring equipment used in radiotherapy treatment
  • nuclear medicine - working with radioactive substances used in therapy or diagnosis (radiopharmaceuticals), communicating directly with patients, administering treatments and taking readings and measurements (for example, using gamma cameras), as well as maintaining materials and equipment
  • medical engineering - working to test, maintain, repair and calibrate medical devices in a wide range of clinical areas using electrical or mechanical engineering skills
  • radiation engineering - using your engineering skills to repair and service equipment such as x-ray, ultrasound and MRI machines
  • rehabilitation engineering - maintaining, designing, fitting, adjusting, servicing and repairing equipment used to support patient recovery (usually working closely with patients, therapists, technicians and other staff)
  • renal technology - ensuring the safe and effective working of dialysis equipment, both in hospital and where patients use dialysis equipment at home.

Responsibilities

Activities vary depending on the area of clinical technology you work in. However, as a clinical technologist, you'll typically need to:

  • repair and maintain a range of specialist, and often complex, equipment and/or materials
  • monitor and test medical devices and equipment
  • calibrate devices, take measurements and readings
  • ensure that equipment and devices are safe to use
  • provide accurate and concise records about the condition of specialist medical devices
  • contribute to technical problem solving so that any device/equipment issues can be quickly resolved
  • in some roles, such as nuclear medicine, provide training on the safe use of specialist medical devices to staff and, in some cases, patients and carers
  • work closely with other professionals (e.g. technologists, radiographers, radiologists, nurses and clinical scientists)
  • communicate clearly and accurately (mainly to colleagues, but in some areas of work to patients) to ensure that equipment and materials are used safely and processes are understood.

Job descriptions for clinical technologists can vary significantly and it's a good idea to look at the job description closely to identify the nature of the role available.

Salary

  • Most clinical technologist roles are in the NHS and are usually linked to an NHS pay band. Salaries for trainee clinical technologists are typically on Band 4 (£21,000 to £24,000) or Band 5 (£24,000 to £30,000).
  • Once you've completed training and are a registered clinical technologist, you can expect to be employed on Band 5 or occasionally Band 6 (£31,000 to £37,000).
  • Experienced clinical technologists are typically employed on Band 6.

Salaries can vary significantly depending on a range of factors including your experience and area of specialism, as well as where in the UK you work. NHS pay bands are usually updated annually.

Salaries for degree apprenticeship roles, which usually offer very similar training, are typically lower. For more information, see GOV.UK - Become an apprentice.

Income data from NHS Employers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time clinical technologists usually work 37.5 hours a week. In some areas jobs may follow a rota or shift pattern, whereas in others there are core office hours (for example 9am to 5pm) with some occasional work outside of these.

Some jobs offer opportunities for flexible working, part-time hours, short-term contracts and job sharing.

What to expect

  • As a trainee clinical technologist, you'll complete professional training at the same time as working. Usually you'll get some time off, but you should expect to use some of your free time to support your studies.
  • Job satisfaction typically comes from knowing that you've done your job well - that equipment and materials have been used safely and effectively to treat patients. Although there are opportunities for innovation, design, research and advisory work, this isn't the core purpose of the role.
  • The skills you use and the level of contact you have with patients varies depending on your area of work and whether you're working in a laboratory, travelling around a hospital to work or visiting other sites and patient homes.
  • As the vast majority of roles are within the NHS, job security, pay and benefits are generally stable. Staff are represented by a trade union and a set of core NHS values governs the work.

Qualifications

The most common route to qualifying as a clinical technologist is to apply for a trainee clinical technologist job in the NHS and then complete a training scheme on the job. Entry requirements for these roles vary but you'll often need:

  • an A-level in physics or engineering
  • a degree or HND in physics or engineering (or a degree with a large component of these subject areas).

One you're working as a trainee clinical technologist, you'll follow either the IPEM Clinical Technologist Training Scheme or The Association of Renal Technologists Training Scheme. These schemes form part of the NHS Practitioner Training Programme. In Scotland, very similar training is arranged locally and is usually referred to as the Pre-Registration Practitioners (PRP) training programme.

These training schemes include study for a BSc in Healthcare Science in your specific practice area. Although you can take the BSc independently of a training scheme, you'll need substantial workplace experience (50 weeks or more) to build a portfolio of evidence against the standards required to become a registered clinical technologist.

An alternative route is to take a degree apprenticeship. You'll need to start by applying for an apprentice clinical technologist job in the NHS. Entry requirements vary but usually include A-level physics and evidence of study at GCSE level, typically with grades C or B (4 or 5) in English, maths and science. You can still apply if you already have a degree.

Once qualified, you'll be eligible to join the Register of Clinical Technologists, a register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

A small number of individuals each year become registered as a clinical technologist through the 'equivalence route', or 'route 2'. This route is open to those who have substantial employment or education experience (typically more than five years), equivalent to the training received on the training schemes.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • verbal and written communication skills in order to provide clear instructions
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods on complex work, as well as to handle interruptions and setbacks
  • a flexible approach to work and the ability to adapt your knowledge to changing situations
  • interpersonal and teamworking skills, as well as the ability to work alone
  • manual dexterity
  • attention to detail
  • self-awareness and the confidence to recognise when you need to ask for help as your work can directly affect patient health
  • reliability and high standards, as your work keeps patients safe
  • the ability to manage unpredictable workloads
  • IT skills and the ability to handle data using a range of software packages.

A driving licence is sometimes required for travel between hospital sites.

Work experience

You don't usually need previous work experience in clinical technology. However, any experience of work, regardless of whether it's in a clinical setting, is useful as it can demonstrate your broader professional skills, such as communication, reliability and attention to detail.

It may be possible to spend some time work shadowing a clinical technologist or doing work experience with a clinical technology team to get a feel for the role. Contact your local hospital to find out about opportunities.

Some hospital websites will list work experience opportunities and others will have contact details to request informal experience. Look for opportunities with the medical physics, medical engineering or rehabilitation engineering department. Make sure that you've read about the different areas and that you're clear about where you'd like to gain work experience.

Employers

The vast majority of clinical technologists work for the NHS. Each NHS trust advertises for trainee clinical technologists at different times of the year, and with slightly different job descriptions (even within the same area of work).

A small number of jobs (usually for trained and registered clinical technologists) are advertised outside of the NHS in private companies - usually either private healthcare providers or makers of medical technology.

Look for vacancies at:

Jobs may be advertised under a range of titles, including clinical technologist, medical technologist or healthcare science practitioner. For NHS jobs, you can use the 'browse jobs' function to filter for either 'healthcare science trainees' or 'healthcare scientists' at Bands 4 and 5.

Professional development

After you've completed your training and become a registered clinical technologist, you'll continue to develop professionally by completing the continuous professional development (CPD) requirements of the RCT - see RCT - Continuing professional development (CPD) for more information. Activities can include:

  • researching new devices
  • carrying out reflective practice
  • taking a secondment to a different team
  • receiving training on new techniques or equipment
  • developing new skills which expand your role.

Professional bodies that support clinical technologists include:

Membership can provide you with access to professional journals, conferences and events, as well as other CPD opportunities through meetings, research and awards.

Career prospects

The first three years in the role are generally concerned with completing your training. Following this, you'll typically be employed as a registered clinical technologist on Band 5 of the NHS pay scale.

As you continue to develop your skills and experience, you can apply for a Band 6 role. How quickly you progress depends on when roles become available and what skills and experience these roles require. However, it's reasonable to expect that you can move into a Band 6 role within five years of registration.

With experience you could take on responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of junior and student clinical technologists and other technical staff, including technical supervision, mentoring and training. There are a small number of roles available at higher bands, where clinical technologists take on responsibility for managing a team or training area.

It's possible to use your experience and training as a clinical technologist to move on to work as a clinical scientist (typically using the equivalence progression route). See the Academy for Healthcare Science Career Framework for Healthcare Scientists for details.

As a clinical scientist, you might then move on to more research-orientated work, higher specialist training or high-level leadership roles.