If you're scientifically minded, have an interest in hearing and balance and enjoy helping people, consider becoming a healthcare scientist specialising in audiology

As a healthcare scientist (also known as a clinical scientist) working in audiology, you'll assess, diagnose and manage patients who have hearing, balance and tinnitus problems. Your patients may include newborn babies, children, adults and elderly people.

Work involves identifying and assessing hearing and balance functions through administering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and recommending and providing appropriate treatment.

Types of work

The main areas of work are:

  • adult assessment and rehabilitation
  • paediatrics
  • research and development
  • special needs groups, e.g. patients with multi-sensory impairment
  • teaching.

Responsibilities

As a healthcare scientist working in audiology, you'll need to:

  • administer auditory tests for babies, children and adults
  • interpret and report on test results
  • develop and improve test techniques
  • recommend individual patient care management plans
  • advise on the selection, fitting and evaluation of hearing aids
  • research new advances in hearing aid technology, such as digital hearing aids
  • test and maintain implanted devices, such as cochlear implants
  • operate audiometric equipment
  • conduct research into disorders affecting hearing and balance
  • counsel patients and help with their rehabilitation
  • teach and train other healthcare professionals
  • work as part of a multidisciplinary team of specialists, which may include ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons and other hospital specialists, such as neurologists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, paediatricians and teachers of hearing-impaired people
  • manage audiology services, including monitoring and improving the quality of service provided.

Your responsibilities will vary depending on your level of experience. Those with more experience generally carry out the non-routine aspects of audiology, involving complex hearing and balance investigations that require a high level of responsibility and competence.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates consisting of nine pay bands. Trainee healthcare scientists are usually employed at Band 6, starting at £28,050.
  • Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 7 (£33,222 to £43,041).
  • Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £42,414 (Band 8) to £102,506 (Band 9) for those working at the very highest level.

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 jobs outside the NHS may vary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work a standard 37.5 hour week. In some roles this may include occasional weekends.

Part-time work is possible.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work in a hospital consultation room, although it's possible to work in universities in a research or teaching role.
  • Jobs are available in hospitals throughout the UK.
  • You won't usually have to travel, but may need to visit other hospitals or clinics. At a senior level, however, you'll be expected to travel to local and national meetings and events, to provide training and give presentations.
  • You'll need to enjoy working as part of a healthcare team and feel comfortable working with patients who may be in distress.
  • Audiology is a rapidly developing field as the number of people suffering from significant hearing loss increases.

Qualifications

To become a healthcare scientist working in audiology, you'll need a degree in a subject related to physiological sciences. You can then apply for a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) to train as a clinical scientist.

Entry on to the STP is competitive as there are many more applicants than places, and you'll need a first or 2:1 degree, or a 2:2 with a relevant Masters or PhD. For all applicants, getting good academic results and relevant work experience is helpful, as is evidence of research experience (for example, through a relevant Masters or PhD).

The STP is a three-year, full-time, workplace-based training programme and during this time you'll be employed in a fixed-term salaried post in audiology. The first year of training is spent on rotation in a range of settings before specialising in years two and three. Training includes study for an approved and accredited Masters degree specialising in neurosensory sciences.

You need to apply for a place on the STP via the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS). Recruitment usually takes place in January, but check the NSHCS website regularly for details. 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). See the NSHCS website for full details on how to apply.

For information on STP training in Wales, see the Workforce, Education and Development Services (WEDS). There are separate scientist training schemes in:

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 (Audiology). Courses are full time, usually three years, and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS. After graduation you can apply to enter the NHS in a healthcare science practitioner role or choose to apply for the STP.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication skills and the ability to relate to patients of all ages
  • manual dexterity
  • time management skills
  • patience and empathy to deal with patients who may be in distress
  • teamworking skills as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including other medical professionals
  • problem solving and analytical skills
  • a scientific background and an interest in audiology.

Work experience

Entry on to the training scheme is competitive as there are many more applicants than places. To improve your chances, try and get some work experience within a hospital audiology department. Arrange a visit to a department in your local hospital to find out more about the role.

Make sure that you attend an STP open day for your specialism, if there is one, to get a better insight into the role and programme.

Employers

Many healthcare scientists working in audiology are employed in ear, nose and throat clinics or audiology departments in NHS hospitals. There are opportunities to work in private hospitals and in the independent sector.

Opportunities are also available with cochlear implant companies and working for a cochlear implant service within the NHS.

You may choose to follow a research career, working in a university, or work in industry for a company that develops and manufactures hearing technology.

Look for job vacancies at:

Jobs may be advertised as 'clinical scientist' as well as 'healthcare scientist'.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Maxxima and Mediplacements also handle vacancies.

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:

  • applying for research grants
  • attending conferences workshops and lectures
  • publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • presenting research and papers at conferences
  • undertaking work exchanges abroad.

Membership of the BAA provides opportunities to network with fellow professionals, as well as access to advice and support, and CPD events and conferences. Courses cover areas such as:

  • adult hearing loss
  • implantable hearing technology
  • leadership
  • paediatric assessment
  • tinnitus adviser training.

Once you've got experience, you may be able to apply to become a consultant healthcare scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) programme. This five-year, workplace-based training programme includes study at Doctorate level and, where appropriate, study for Royal College qualifications. See the NSHCS website for full details.

You can also study for a traditional PhD and get involved in research.

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 you gain experience, it's usual to specialise in a particular area of audiology such as:

  • auditory rehabilitation
  • bone anchored hearing devices
  • cochlear implants
  • paediatrics
  • tinnitus.

As your career develops, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of the department. Progression to consultant and then deputy head or head of department involves further training and is likely to involve the management of a large department or major departmental section.

There are also opportunities to move into research, working for a university or research institute.