A career in clinical embryology will suit you if you have an interest in reproductive science, see yourself working in a healthcare setting and want to help make a difference to the lives of others
As a healthcare scientist - also known as a clinical scientist - working in clinical embryology, you'll be involved in fertility treatment and reproductive research.
You'll perform diagnostic services and therapeutic embryological procedures, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) at hospitals and clinics. You'll also be involved in the collection, storing and fertilisation of eggs from patients.
Within the field of reproductive sciences, it's also possible to work in andrology, focusing on male reproduction. For more information see Health Careers.
As a healthcare scientist working in clinical embryology, you'll need to:
- determine patients' fertility levels
- speak to patients about specific fertility treatment options
- research infertility solutions with other medical, nursing and counselling staff
- use assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to help with infertility
- collect eggs and sperm (gametes) from patients for processing
- test the suitability of each gamete
- prepare gametes and the environment for IVF and facilitate fertilisation
- maintain the viability of gametes, tissues and embryos during processing
- select embryos for transfer to recipient women, research or other intended use and implant embryos into patients' reproductive organs
- monitor embryo development
- monitor and maintain cryobanks, and preserve gametes and embryos for future use
- comply with quality control, ethical issues and regulations surrounding gamete and embryo handling
- care for, and maintain, equipment
- keep accurate and detailed patient records.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. Trainee healthcare scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) are on Band 6 of the scale, with salaries starting at £26,565.
- Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 7 (£31,383 to £41,373).
- Salaries for principal scientists and consultant scientists, the highest grade at which healthcare scientists work, range from £40,428 (Band 8) to £100,431 (Band 9) for the most senior roles.
If you're working in London and the surrounding areas you may receive a high-cost area supplement of between 5% and 20% of your 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 are generally a standard 37.5 hours per week, although you may be required to work a shift pattern.
Flexible and part-time work is generally available following successful completion of training.
What to expect
- The work takes place in a laboratory or clinical setting and is generally carried out as part of a multidisciplinary team, including obstetricians and gynaecologists, doctors, specialist nurses and counsellors.
- You'll need a practical and theoretical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and ART, and must keep up to date with current regulations and legislation.
- Jobs are available in most areas in the UK but are found mainly in larger hospitals or fertility clinics in urban areas. As a trainee, there are opportunities to experience working in different settings. You may need to relocate to progress your career.
- The role can be challenging, although contributing to patient fertility can also be rewarding.
- You may visit other hospitals or clinics as part of your work, but won't typically need to travel. There are some opportunities available in fertility clinics overseas.
As a graduate with a degree in biomedical sciences, biology, microbiology, genetics or biochemistry, you can apply for a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) where you'll specialise in reproductive science.
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, to be considered. 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 that leads to more senior scientist roles in the NHS. During this time you'll be employed on a fixed-term contract 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 study for an approved and accredited Masters degree in clinical science (cellular sciences - reproductive science).
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:
- Scotland - NHS Education for Scotland: Clinical Scientists
- Northern Ireland - NI Direct Healthcare Scientist
You will need to have:
- laboratory and research skills
- communication and interpersonal skills, for advising and supporting patients seeking reproductive help
- teamworking skills as you'll be working as part of a multidisciplinary team, including obstetricians and counsellors
- the ability to make judgements that impact on patients' lives
- effective problem-solving and analytical skills
- project management skills
- good IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised
- meticulous documentation and record keeping skills
- attention to detail to produce accurate work
- the ability to adapt to new technologies and techniques.
Competition for entry on to the STP is keen. Experience with reproductive biology and familiarity with hospitals and clinics are important, so arrange a visit to a local hospital laboratory before applying. Related experience is useful, so investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience in a fertility clinic or assisted conception unit of a large hospital.
It's also worth making speculative approaches to clinics and hospitals. The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) has a list of fertility clinics and embryo research centres. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in embryology in your local NHS Trust hospital to discuss the career and opportunities for experience.
If the chance arises, attend an open day for your specialism to gain a better insight into the role and STP programme.
Many healthcare scientists working in clinical embryology are employed by the NHS in assisted conception units of large hospitals around the UK. They're also employed by independent providers of fertility treatments. For a list of both NHS and private fertility treatment providers, see the HFEA website.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE)
- Nature Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). 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.
CPD activities can be anything 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.
Membership of ACE is important as it provides access to networking and career development opportunities, as well as support and advice.
Once you've got experience, you may be able to train to become a consultant clinical scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme. This five-year workplace-based training programme includes study at doctorate level and leads to the Certificate of Completion of Higher Specialist Scientist Training (CCHSST) issued by the NSHCS. As part of the HSST programme you'll need to pass examinations set by The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath).
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 develops, you're likely to take on a more supervisory role with responsibility for the work of your department or major departmental section. 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. It's possible to gain a senior position by making a significant contribution in your area of expertise.
You could alternatively develop your career through management or teaching and research.