If you have a degree in biochemistry or a related subject and have excellent analytical and communication skills, consider a career as a healthcare scientist specialising in clinical biochemistry

As a healthcare scientist working in clinical biochemistry you'll analyse samples taken from patients' blood, urine or other bodily fluids to help with the diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases.

Often based in a hospital laboratory, you'll interpret and validate the results of these samples and advise clinical staff on the correct use of tests and any necessary follow up investigations.

Responsibilities

To be successful in your role you'll need to:

  • plan and organise work in clinical biochemistry laboratories, much of which is automated and computer assisted;
  • carry out analyses on specimens of body fluids and tissues;
  • perform clinical validation by checking abnormal results and deciding if further tests are necessary;
  • audit the use and diagnostic performance of tests;
  • identify and resolve any poor analytical performance problems;
  • develop new, as well as existing, tests, which can involve significant manual expertise;
  • devise and conduct basic or applied research;
  • write reports and funding bids;
  • liaise with clinical and healthcare staff, and have some contact with patients;
  • apply your clinical biochemistry skills to prevent disease and keep patients healthy.

As your career progresses you're likely to:

  • train and mentor staff, supervise MSc students and give lectures to medical undergraduates;
  • manage a clinical biochemical laboratory.

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 £26,302.
  • Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 7 (£31,383 to £41,373).
  • Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £40,028 (Band 8) to £99,437 (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.

Salary levels for healthcare 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 possible.

What to expect

  • Work usually takes place in a hospital laboratory, although you may also be based at the point of care, for example in clinics and operating theatres.
  • You'll work as part of a team with other healthcare professionals such as pathologists, biomedical scientists and other clinicians, including GPs.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, particularly in large and medium-sized hospitals. During training, there's an opportunity to experience work in a variety of different hospital laboratories.
  • As more laboratories merge, you may have to travel between hospitals, but you won't usually need to stay away over night.

Qualifications

As a graduate with a degree in a subject such as biochemistry, chemistry or biomedical sciences, you can apply for a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). Entry on to the STP is competitive 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 clinical biochemistry. 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 in blood sciences with a specialism in clinical biochemistry.

If you already work for the NHS, you can apply to the STP as an internal candidate. See the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) website for programme details for both external and internal applicants.

Details of training posts may be advertised in the New Scientist, but candidates must apply through the online application portal Oriel. Recruitment usually takes place in January but check the NSHCS website regularly for details.

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:

Skills

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;
  • good IT skills as most laboratories are highly computerised;
  • meticulous attention to detail;
  • the ability to work effectively as part of a team;
  • a self-motivated and confident approach, to gain the most from training placements in busy hospital departments;
  • a willingness to keep up to date with the latest scientific and medical research in clinical biochemistry.

Work experience

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

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

Employers

Most healthcare scientists working in clinical biochemistry are employed in clinical biochemistry, clinical pathology or clinical chemistry departments in NHS hospitals.

You may need to change employers during the early part of your career, as posts are geographically widespread and there won't necessarily be a vacancy in the hospital where you did your training.

There may be some opportunities in industrial companies, particularly diagnostics pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once qualified, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in your area of expertise, as well as building on your laboratory and management skills. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC and can include:

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

Once you've got experience, you can train to become a consultant healthcare scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme. This five-year workplace-based training programme includes study at doctorate level and for fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath). See the NSHCS website for full details.

Membership of The Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB) is useful for networking opportunities and access to expert advice and training for those studying for FRCPath.

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 progresses you can specialise in a particular area such as endocrinology, toxicology, immunology or molecular biology or move into management, research or teaching. With experience, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of the laboratory.

Progression to consultant and then deputy head or head of department involves further training and will carry responsibility for managing the whole laboratory and for advising the health authority on policy issues. Principal and consultant healthcare scientists working in clinical biochemistry are usually expected to have obtained fellowship of the The Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath).

There are also opportunities for general management roles within the NHS and in the diagnostics and pharmaceutical industries.