As a healthcare scientist working in genomics, you'll examine patient samples to identify genetic and genomic abnormalities, which may cause inherited or acquired (non-inherited) diseases

You'll work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as clinicians, to provide advice to patients about diagnosis and treatment, and help predict whether other family members or future generations are at risk from the abnormality.

To work as a healthcare scientist, you must be registered as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Types of work

Your work will typically fall into three main categories:

  • prenatal diagnosis - examining cells for possible abnormalities in the foetus
  • carrier testing - to identify patients who may be at risk from single gene disorders
  • confirmation of diagnosis.

Responsibilities

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

  • use scientific, technical and clinical knowledge to analyse and interpret the results of routine and complex tests carried out by other members of the laboratory
  • write fully interpretive reports for clinicians (including family doctors, consultant neurologists and paediatricians) and other healthcare professionals who have requested tests and advise them on investigation strategies
  • develop and devise new investigation strategies, taking into account the clinical problems of genetic disease and the clinical relevance of inherited or acquired genetic abnormalities
  • participate in research and development and translate any new techniques and assays into routine diagnostic service
  • deal with enquiries relating to genomic testing and provide expert scientific advice to clinical colleagues and other healthcare professionals
  • interpret quality control and quality assurance data
  • undertake continued professional development (CPD).

At a senior level, you may also need to:

  • train and mentor staff, supervise MSc students and give lectures to medical undergraduates
  • lead research activities or programmes
  • take responsibility for a specialist area of service or the management of a laboratory or department.

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 senior and consultant clinical scientists range from £42,414 (Band 8) to £102,506 (top of 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.

What to expect

  • You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary team, including doctors specialising in genomics and genetics, genomic counsellors and other laboratory staff, such as healthcare science practitioners.
  • Although you'll have very little direct contact with patients, your work will have a large impact on them and their families.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the country, usually in medium-sized or large hospitals. However, there are only a relatively small number of jobs available and you may need to relocate to increase your chances of career progression.
  • During training, you'll have the opportunity to experience working in a variety of different hospital laboratories. You may have to travel to other parts of the country to fulfil the training requirements and spend a few weeks there. You'll also have to travel to university to complete your Masters degree.

Qualifications

To become a healthcare scientist working in genomics, you'll need an undergraduate honours degree or an integrated Masters degree in genetics, or a related subject with a genetics component, such as molecular biology or cellular sciences. You can then apply for a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) to train as a clinical scientist. Relevant STP programmes are offered for genomics and clinical bioinformatics (genomics), as well as cancer genomics.

Entry on to the STP is competitive as there are many more applicants than places available, 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 that leads to more senior scientist roles in the NHS. During this time you'll be employed in a fixed-term salaried post in genomics. 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 genetics.

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 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 HCPC. See the NSHCS website for full details on how to apply.

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 leading to a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science (Life Sciences - Genetics Science). Courses are full time (usually three years) and include a mixture of academic learning and workplace-based training in the NHS.

After graduation you'll be qualified as a healthcare science practitioner, eligible for professional registration as a biomedical scientist with the HCPC and able to apply for the STP.

Skills

You'll need:

  • laboratory skills and the ability to plan and design research investigations and experiments
  • the ability to manage a laboratory project
  • strong problem-solving skills and the ability to use your initiative
  • an analytical and investigative mind in order to assess scientific, technical and medical literature
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both written and oral
  • active listening skills
  • teamworking skills in order to work collaboratively
  • the ability to work independently
  • the ability to work under pressure and to plan and prioritise your workload
  • leadership skills
  • a high level of self-motivation, resilience and reliability
  • good self-awareness
  • a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • good IT skills, as most laboratories are computerised
  • commitment to, and enthusiasm for, scientific practice and its application in a clinical environment to improve patient care.

Work experience

Entry on to the STP is competitive and there are many more applicants than places. To improve your chances, try to get an insight into the workings of a hospital laboratory by arranging a visit to your nearest regional genetic laboratory before you apply. You could also try and find short-term work experience in a genetics laboratory. For a list of regional genetics centres in the UK, see the Association for Clinical Genomic Science (ACGS) - Regional Genetics Centres.

Lab work can be difficult to obtain, so voluntary work with patients, for example, can also be useful. It's good to have a range of life experiences so you can show your range of skills. Involvement with groups such as the Scouts or Guides or sports coaching, for example, can demonstrate your leadership skills. Mentoring experience is also helpful.

Try to attend an open day for your specialism to get a better insight into the role and STP programme. A list of open days relevant to genomics, cancer genomics and clinical bioinformatics can be found at NSHCS - STP Open days.

Employers

Most healthcare scientists working in genomics are employed in the NHS and are based in laboratories in large hospitals around the UK. Some work for other specialist laboratories and in private hospitals.

It's also possible to follow a research career, working in a university or research institute.

There are also some opportunities with government bodies and non-departmental public bodies, such as NICE.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once qualified, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in research and analysis techniques, as well as building on your laboratory and management skills. CPD is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC. Any activities from which you learn and develop count as CPD, 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 the BSGM and ACGS is useful for finding out about events and conferences and for networking with other professionals.

Once you've got some experience, you may apply to train 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 for fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath). See the NSHCS website for full details.

Career prospects

There's 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. Progression to consultant involves further training via the HSST programme. Promotion to deputy head or head of department 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 the field of genetics.

There are opportunities to move into clinical research or to get involved in training and registration assessments. You can also develop your career by getting involved with professional bodies, taking on external professional roles or moving into advisory roles with organisations such as NICE or the Department of Health & Social Care.