You'll need a degree in a biomedical science and experience of working in a hospital laboratory in order to train to become a healthcare scientist working in histocompatibility and immunogenetics

As a healthcare scientist (also known as a clinical scientist) working in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I), you'll carry out tests to support haematopoietic stem cell and organ transplantation. A specialist in tissue typing, your work will ensure that the best donor for a particular patient is chosen.

You'll be involved in the genetic matching of prospective organ and stem cell donors with patients, typing human leukocyte antigens (HLA) and investigating HLA antibodies to enable assessment of the closeness of the match.

Responsibilities

As an H&I healthcare scientist, you'll need to:

  • carry out complex analyses on patient and donor specimens
  • perform HLA typing of organ donors and patients and assign HLA types to them
  • perform HLA typing in support of disease diagnosis or the prediction of drug hypersensitivity
  • perform screening of patient sera for HLA antibodies
  • perform cross-matching to assess patient and donor compatibility for solid organ transplantation
  • participate in the provision of HLA matched platelets for patients who need platelet transfusion
  • perform isolation, measurement and cataloguing of DNA samples
  • perform isolation and preservation of lymphocytes
  • advise clinicians as to the best match between donor and patient
  • produce high-quality, accurate and timely audits of investigations
  • develop new and existing tests and ensure the quality of clinical investigations
  • record computerised and written reports relating to organ donors, patients and reagents
  • evaluate new technologies (and possibly train or specialise in these)
  • attend scientific meetings and conferences
  • submit bids for funding
  • undertake research to enable the expansion of transplantation as a credible treatment option for a range of diseases.

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 on an emergency out of hours on-call rota undertaking work to support solid organ transplantation.

Part-time work is possible.

What to expect

  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, mainly in large or medium-sized hospitals. However, there are only a small number of jobs available and you may need to relocate to increase your chances of career progression.
  • During training, there are opportunities to experience working in a variety of different hospital laboratories. You may have to travel to fulfil the training requirements and may need to spend time away from home.
  • You'll work with other clinical and healthcare science staff, often as part of a multidisciplinary team.
  • There is a variety of research and development (R&D) projects available, plus the satisfaction of contributing to patient care. However, coping with changes in the NHS and a heavy workload can be a challenge.
  • You may need to travel between hospitals but are unlikely to spend time away from home.

Qualifications

As a graduate with a degree in genetics, biology, biochemistry, microbiology 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 that leads to more senior scientist roles in the NHS. During this time you'll be employed in a fixed-term salaried post in histocompatibility and immunogenetics. 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 (blood sciences).

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.

It is also possible to register with the HCPC as a clinical scientist by taking the British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (BSHI) Diploma in H&I and then applying for a Certificate of Attainment from the Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS). To take the Diploma you need to have a second class honours degree in a biology discipline and be employed in a laboratory providing H&I services to a transplant programme. See the BSHI website for full details.

At this point, the training pathways converge and the options for higher specialist training are available to healthcare scientists who have arrived at this point via either route.

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 have:

  • laboratory skills and the ability to design and plan research investigations and experiments
  • the ability to make judgements that impact on patients
  • strong problem-solving skills
  • an analytical and investigative mind
  • attention to detail and the ability to work with speed and accuracy
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • good active listening skills for communicating with patients
  • the capacity to manage a laboratory project and liaise with a variety of technical colleagues
  • the ability to work on your own
  • the ability to work effectively as part of a team and also the skills to lead and motivate others
  • strong IT skills and a knowledge of common computing packages
  • excellent organisational skills and the ability to plan and prioritise work
  • a flexible approach to work
  • the capacity to work well under pressure
  • emotional resilience and good self-awareness.

You will also need highly developed coordination skills, good manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

Work experience

Entry on to the STP is competitive and there are many more applicants than places. To improve your chances, try and get an insight into the workings of a hospital laboratory by arranging a visit to a local hospital before you apply.

You could also try and find short-term laboratory work experience in life sciences or pathology. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in life sciences or pathology in your local NHS Trust hospital.

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

Employers

Many H&I healthcare scientists are employed in the NHS and are typically based in transplantation or immunology departments in large hospitals around the UK. Opportunities are also available with:

There are opportunities in the private sector, for example within independent hospitals or for the Anthony Nolan charity. Research opportunities are available at universities and departments attached to teaching hospitals.

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. CPD activities can be any activities 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.

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 will need to pass examinations set by The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath). Candidates who successfully complete both Part 1 and Part 2 Fellowship Examinations are awarded the title of Fellowship (FRCPath). Alternatively, you may be able to complete the Part 1 and Part 2 Fellowship Examinations by self-study and educational support within your department.

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.

H&I offers the chance to specialise in many fields, for example:

  • classical serology
  • type of transplantation, e.g. kidney, haematopoietic stem cell
  • platelet immunology/haematology
  • molecular biology.

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.

There are also opportunities to develop your career through management or teaching and research.