Healthcare scientists working in clinical biochemistry analyse samples taken from patients' blood, urine or other bodily fluids to help with the investigation, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
They develop and implement new techniques, interpret results and liaise with and advise clinical staff on the correct use of tests and any necessary follow up investigations.
They are responsible for the evaluation and quality assessment of diagnostic tests and play a role in developing and managing hospital and community analytical services.
Clinical biochemistry healthcare scientists work as part of a team with other heath professionals, such as biomedical scientists and pathologists.
Although usually based in a hospital laboratory, they are increasingly found working at the point of care, for example in clinics and operating theatres, supporting the investigation of patients.
A typical laboratory processes several thousand samples per day. Of these, a few hundred results will be abnormal and need to be scrutinised by a clinical biochemist.
Other duties include:
- planning and organising work in clinical biochemistry laboratories, much of which is automated and computer assisted;
- performing clinical validation: checking abnormal results identified by automated analysers and deciding if further tests are necessary;
- carrying out complex biochemical analyses on specimens of body fluids and tissues, using spectrophotometry, mass spectroscopy, high performance chromatography, electrophoresis, immunoassay and, increasingly, molecular biological techniques;
- auditing the use and diagnostic performance of tests, as part of national and international quality assurance programmes;
- identifying the cause of and resolving any poor analytical performance problems;
- searching scientific literature for evidence of specificity and sensitivity of a diagnostic test;
- devising and conducting basic or applied research;
- writing reports, funding bids and conducting research with clinical staff;
- liaising with clinical and technical staff, and contacting patients;
- training staff, reviewing the need for staff training, supervising MSc students and giving lectures to medical undergraduates;
- attending and contributing to local and national scientific meetings and conferences;
- managing a clinical biochemical laboratory as career progresses.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) usually consist of nine pay bands.
- Salaries for trainee healthcare scientists typically start at around £25,700, depending on the employer.
- Salaries for qualified healthcare scientists usually start on Band 6 and range from £25,783 to £34,530.
- Experienced healthcare scientists (Band 7) can earn between £30,764 and £40,558.
- Salaries for principal scientists, the highest grade at which healthcare scientists work, range from £39,239 (Band 8) to £98,453 (Band 9).
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 healthcare scientists working for private companies, universities, government bodies and other organisations may vary.
Income data from Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. Figures are intended as a guide only.
It is possible to work part time following successful completion of training.
The working pattern includes late evenings and out-of-hours consultative work in addition to shift and weekend work to cover an extended working day, seven days per week.
Career breaks are supported in the National Health Service (NHS), but healthcare scientists must keep up to date with technological developments during any breaks and will need to undertake a period of retraining on returning to work to fulfil state registration requirements.
What to expect
- The clinical biochemistry service is made up of medical staff, clinical scientists, biomedical scientists and medical laboratory assistants working together as a team.
- Self-employment or freelance work is unlikely. However, there may be freelance opportunities away from clinical practice in areas such as writing, healthcare science journalism or teaching.
- Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, particularly in medium-sized or larger hospitals in urban areas. During training, there is an opportunity to experience working in a variety of different hospital laboratories. Relocation may be necessary for career progression.
- Travel at a local level is more common as laboratories merge. Absence from home at night and overseas travel are uncommon.
In order to work as a healthcare scientist (also known as a clinical scientist) in biochemistry you need to successfully complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This leads to eligibility to apply to the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) for a Certificate of Attainment, which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
The STP is a graduate-entry programme that leads to more senior scientist roles in the NHS. Successful candidates are employed by an NHS Trust as trainee healthcare scientists and join a salaried three-year, fixed-term training programme, which includes study for an approved and accredited Masters degree in your chosen science specialism.
Entry on to the STP is competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree (typically in chemistry, applied or analytical chemistry, biochemistry or biology) or a 2:2 with a relevant Masters or PhD. Gaining good academic results and relevant work experience is helpful. An MSc or a PhD in a relevant subject area may be advantageous when applying for trainee positions, but is not a requirement. Additional skills and experience, such as involvement with research projects and publications, may also be useful.
NHS organisations in England and Wales annually offer 250 to 300 training posts in life sciences, physiological sciences, physical sciences and informatics. Details of training posts have been advertised in the New Scientist, but candidates must apply through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS): STP recruitment recruitment website. Recruitment usually takes place in January but check the NSHCS website regularly for details.
Entry is also possible as a consultant healthcare scientist, after gaining postgraduate qualifications and/or considerable relevant experience through the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme. The HSST is a five-year workplace-based training programme with, where appropriate, study for Royal College qualifications. For entry on to this route, applicants will need registration (or eligibility and application underway) with the HCPC as a clinical scientist; normally at least one further year in the workplace to consolidate and enhance clinical scientific skills, learning and experience (including research and education); and the ability to demonstrate meeting any additional specific selection criteria required for a particular specialism at interview.
You will need to show:
- laboratory skills and the ability to plan and do research;
- strong problem-solving skills;
- an analytical and investigative mind;
- excellent oral and written communication skills;
- the ability to manage a laboratory project and liaise with a wide variety of technical colleagues;
- the ability to work effectively as part of a team.
Most laboratories are highly computerised so computer literacy is essential.
Entry on to training schemes is competitive and there are many more applicants than places. Laboratory experience and an insight into the workings of a hospital laboratory are very important so arrange a visit to a local hospital laboratory before you apply. Even better, investigate the possibility of short-term work experience in a clinical biochemistry laboratory. Contact the consultant or principal clinical biochemist in your local trust hospital of the National Health Service (NHS).
Most healthcare scientists working in clinical biochemistry are employed in clinical biochemistry, clinical pathology or clinical chemistry departments in the National Health Service (NHS).
A willingness to move around is important during the early part of your career with the NHS, as posts are geographically widespread and posts will not necessarily be vacant in your current hospital when you come to the end of your training.
Some opportunities exist in industrial companies, particularly diagnostics pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, where clinical testing of drugs is an important part of the work.
Look for job vacancies at:
Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Trainee healthcare scientists undertake three years of training accredited by the National School of Healthcare Science on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). They spend the first year of training on rotation in a range of settings before specialising in years two and three.
Trainees follow a period of structured part-time study alongside practical training. This leads to an MSc in clinical science (specialising in clinical biochemistry).
On successful completion of the STP you are eligible to apply to the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) for a Certificate of Attainment, which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Once qualified, healthcare scientists must keep their skills up to date and follow the ongoing developments in research. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC and can include:
- attending conferences, workshops and lectures;
- writing for journals;
- presenting research and papers at conferences.
It is also possible to undertake research at PhD level.
Useful for networking opportunities at regional and national meetings and access to training and expert advice is membership of The Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB).
Career progression to higher grades, following successful completion of the training period, may involve moving to another hospital. Further study and training may follow and some healthcare scientists study for a PhD either full or part time.
Progression to the top of Band 7 is based on merit including the completion of relevant specialised postgraduate research and publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Networking at all levels is part of successful career development in this role. Maintaining a professional profile by presenting research at meetings, undertaking work exchanges abroad and applying for research grants is recommended.
As your career progresses you will assume a more supervisory role and carry fuller responsibility for the work of the laboratory. There are also opportunities to specialise in particular areas, such as:
- molecular biology.
Further study and training is likely to follow, with the expectation that clinical biochemists attain membership of The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) (MRCPath) or a PhD.
The MRCPath allows clinical biochemists to proceed to higher post-registration positions and finally to a consultancy post. Most consultancy posts carry independent responsibility for managing a laboratory and for advising the health authority on policy issues. The status is comparable to that of a hospital consultant.
Career expectation should be to progress to a consultant, becoming a deputy head or head of a department.
There are opportunities for management roles within the National Health Service (NHS) and in the diagnostics and pharmaceutical industries ranging from pure research, through to technical support for sales and marketing, to medical information specialists and senior management posts.
Lecturing in higher education institutes is also possible.