Healthcare scientists (also known as clinical scientists) working in clinical embryology are involved in fertility treatment and reproductive research.

They perform diagnostic services and therapeutic embryological procedures, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), at hospitals and clinics. They are also involved in the collection, storing and fertilisation of eggs from patients.

Healthcare scientists working in clinical embryology communicate with patients about specific treatment options regarding fertility and research infertility solutions with other medical, nursing, counselling and administrative staff. They need a practical and theoretical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and assisted reproductive technology (ART) and must keep up to date with current regulations and legislation involving these subjects.

Within the field of reproductive sciences, it is also possible to work in andrology, focusing on male reproduction. For more information see Health Careers.

Responsibilities

Healthcare scientists working in clinical embryology are typically involved in:

  • determining fertility levels of individuals;
  • the collection of eggs and sperm (gametes) from patients for processing;
  • maintaining viability of gametes, tissues and embryos during processing;
  • micromanipulation and testing of suitability of each gamete;
  • preparation of gametes and the environment for IVF and facilitation of fertilisation;
  • using assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to help with infertility;
  • preservation of gametes and embryos for future use;
  • embryo culture and cryopreservation;
  • monitoring embryo development;
  • embryo selection for transfer to recipient women, research or other intended use and the implantation of embryos into
  • reproductive organs;
  • monitoring and maintaining cryobanks;
  • maintaining an understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and ART;
  • having knowledge of, and complying with, quality control, ethical issues and regulations surrounding gamete and embryo handling;
  • care and maintenance of equipment;
  • record keeping.

Salary

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 on the scale, starting at £26,041.
  • Qualified health scientists are usually recruited at Band 7, which ranges from £31,072 to £40,964.
  • Salaries for principal scientists and consultant scientists, the highest grade at which healthcare scientists work, range from £39,632 (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.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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.
  • Opportunities for self-employment or freelance work are rare.
  • Career breaks may be possible but healthcare scientists must keep up to date with any technical developments and need to retrain on their return to work in order to meet Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration requirements.
  • Work is generally carried out as part of a multidisciplinary team, including obstetricians and gynaecologists, doctors, specialist nurses and counsellors.
  • 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. Relocation is often necessary to progress in the career.
  • Contributing to patient fertility can be very rewarding. However, coping with regulation and NHS changes can be challenging.
  • Travel in the working day is uncommon, but visits to other hospitals or clinics may occur.
  • Work opportunities exist in fertility clinics overseas.

Qualifications

In order to work as a healthcare scientist in clinical embryology you need to successfully complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This leads to eligibility to apply for a Certificate of Attainment from the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS), which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the 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 Clinical Science (Cellular Sciences - Reproductive Science).

Entry on to the STP is competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree in a relevant subject, for example biomedical sciences, biology, microbiology, genetics or biochemistry, or a 2:2 with a relevant Masters or PhD. Gaining good academic results and relevant work experience is helpful.

Evidence of research experience in the form of a higher degree or equivalent evidence of scientific and academic capability is desirable. Additional skills and experience, such as involvement with research projects and publications, will also be useful.

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 particularly useful; investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience in a fertility clinic or assisted conception unit of a large hospital.

It is worthwhile making speculative approaches to clinics and hospitals. The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority 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.

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 are advertised in the New Scientist, but candidates must apply through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS): STP recruitment website. Recruitment usually takes place in January but check the NSHCS website regularly for details. The application period is generally open between three to four weeks.

Training in Scotland involves either completion of the STP programme or an equivalent M-level programme. See NHS Education for Scotland: Clinical Scientists for more information on how and when to apply. There is a separate scientist training scheme for Northern Ireland - NI Direct Healthcare Scientist.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • laboratory skills;
  • the ability to organise and carry out research;
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills for liaising with both colleagues and individuals and couples seeking
  • reproductive help;
  • effective problem-solving and analytical skills;
  • the ability to manage projects;
  • teamwork skills;
  • good IT skills, as most laboratories are highly computerised;
  • good administration skills;
  • meticulous documentation and record keeping;
  • attention to detail;
  • ability to adapt to new technologies and techniques.

Employers

Many healthcare scientists working in clinical embryology are employed by the National Health Service (NHS) in assisted conception units of large hospitals around the UK. They are also employed by independent providers of fertility treatments, including CARE Fertility.

See the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for a list of both NHS and private fertility treatment providers.

Opportunities also exist in fertility clinics overseas.

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Professional development

Trainee healthcare scientists on the STP undertake three years of workplace-based training accredited by the National School for Healthcare Science. During this time you are 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. The training takes place in various laboratories and is overseen by a regional tutor.

Trainees also follow a period of structured part-time study alongside practical training. For those wanting to work in embryology this leads to an MSc in Clinical Science (Cellular Sciences - Reproductive Science).

On successful completion of the STP you are eligible to apply for a Certificate of Attainment from the AHCS, which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Once qualified, healthcare scientists working as embryologists must keep their skills up to date and follow 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:

  • attending conferences workshops and lectures;
  • writing for journals;
  • presenting research and papers at conferences;
  • undertaking research at PhD level.

Career prospects

Career progression to professional grade for healthcare scientists working in clinical embryology, following successful completion of a training period, may involve moving to other hospitals.

Advancement within the professional grade is based on merit and can be encouraged through the completion of relevant specialised postgraduate research and publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Networking at all levels is important for successful career development. Maintaining a professional profile by presenting research at meetings, undertaking work exchanges abroad and applying for research grants is also recommended.

Membership of the ACE is important as it provides access to networking and career development opportunities, as well as support and advice.

It is possible to apply for principal scientist roles after several years' experience at a professional grade. The role of a senior scientist position is likely to involve the management of a large department or major departmental section, and advanced budgeting and administration skills are often required.

For those wanting to work as consultants, it is possible to join the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme, a five-year programme of a similar standard to medical specialty training that involves work-based training and study at doctorate level and the possibility of gaining Medical Royal College qualifications. You will also need to successfully complete the fellowship examination of The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath).

To get on to an HSST programme you can either apply for an advertised post in an accredited training department or be nominated by your employer to move into an existing post.

Consultant healthcare scientists have the opportunity to make significant contributions to their area of expertise.