Job profile

Healthcare scientist, histocompatibility and immunogenetics

Healthcare scientists (also known as clinical scientists) working in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I) are specialists in tissue typing and play an essential role in haematopoietic stem cell and organ transplantation.

They are 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. They have the main responsibility for advising clinicians on the most suitably matched and compatible donors.

Healthcare scientists working in H&I provide genetic tests for a range of immune-related genes, are involved in the investigation of blood transfusion based reactions and platelet therapy, and may be involved in tests to determine genetic predisposition to diseases.

Responsibilities

Common tasks include:

  • performing HLA typing of blood donors and patients, using molecular techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR); assigning HLA types to donors and patients;
  • performing screening of patient and donor sera for HLA antibodies and identifying specificity using serological techniques, including lymphocytotoxicity, solid phase assays (e.g. enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), luminex) and flow cytometry;
  • performing cross-matching by lymphocytotoxicity and flow cytometry techniques to assess patient and donor compatibility for solid organ transplantation;
  • participating in the provision of HLA matched platelets for patients who need platelet transfusion;
  • performing isolation, measurement and cataloguing of DNA samples;
  • performing isolation and preservation of lymphocytes;
  • developing new and existing tests and ensuring the quality of clinical investigations;
  • carrying out complex analyses on patient and donor specimens;
  • recording relevant computerised and written reports relating to blood donors, patients and reagents;
  • evaluating new technologies (and possibly training or specialising in these);
  • advising clinicians as to the best match between donor and patient;
  • producing high-quality, accurate and timely audits of investigations;
  • attending scientific meetings and conferences;
  • submitting bids for funding;
  • undertaking research to enable the expansion of transplantation as a credible treatment option for a range of diseases.

Salary

  • Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually consist of nine pay bands and are covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
  • Salaries of around £25,000 (plus location allowance where applicable), can be expected for trainee healthcare scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).
  • Salaries for those with experience (Band 7) range 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.

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

There is a demand for late evenings and out-of-hours consultative work, in addition to shift and weekend work to cover an extended working day, seven days per week.

It is possible to work part time following successful completion of training.

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 & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration requirements.

What to expect

  • Self-employment and freelance work are unlikely to be available.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, mainly in large or medium-sized hospitals, although relocation is often necessary for career progression. During training, there are opportunities to experience working in a variety of different hospital laboratories.
  • There is good variety in the choice 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 stressful.
  • Travel at a local level is becoming more common as laboratories merge.
  • Overnight absence from home and overseas travel are unlikely.

Qualifications

In order to work as a healthcare scientist in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I) you need to successfully complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This leads to eligibility 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).

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 (Blood Sciences).

Entry on to the STP is competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree in a biomedical science discipline (for example, genetics, immunology, biochemistry or biomedical science) or a 2:2 with a relevant Masters or PhD.

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. 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 or more information on how and when to apply. There is a separate scientist training scheme for Northern Ireland, see NI Direct Healthcare Scientist.

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 for full details.

Those with relevant training, qualifications and/or considerable professional experience may be eligible to obtain a Certificate of Equivalence and register with the HCPC as a clinical scientist.

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, both written and spoken;
  • good active listening skills for communicating with patients;
  • the capacity to manage a laboratory project and liaise with a wide 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.

During training you will need to be able to meet the travel requirements of the training role and the clinical rotations.

Work experience

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. Laboratory experience and an insight into the workings of a hospital laboratory are important, so arrange a visit to a local hospital laboratory before applying.

Related experience is particularly helpful; investigate the possibility of short-term laboratory work experience within life sciences or pathology. It is worthwhile making speculative approaches to laboratories. Contact the consultant or principal clinical scientist in life sciences or pathology in your local NHS Trust hospital.

Employers

Healthcare scientists working in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I) are employed by:

These laboratories are the main source of employment. Also see the:

The private sector employs some H&I healthcare scientists, for example within independent hospitals or for the Anthony Nolan charity.

Most private laboratories do not offer training posts and tend to recruit ready-trained staff.

There are opportunities to be employed within university departments and departments attached to teaching hospitals.

Opportunities to work overseas are most likely for staff at senior levels and are advertised in scientific publications such as New Scientist.

Look for job vacancies at:

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Professional development

Trainee healthcare scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) undertake three years of training accredited by the National School for Healthcare Science.

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 will follow a period of structured part-time study alongside practical training. For those wanting to work in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I) this leads to an MSc in clinical science (blood science).

On successful completion of the STP you are 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).

An in-service training plan for healthcare scientists working in H&I laboratories is provided by the British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (BSHI) Diploma in H&I. Training usually takes three years full time and five years part time.

Completion of the BSHI Diploma allows trainees to submit a completed portfolio to the Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS). The candidate is then invited for a viva voce examination. Successful candidates can then proceed to apply for registration as a clinical scientist with the HCPC. Training is focused on developing practical and theoretical skills in H&I.

Once qualified, healthcare scientists working in H&I 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.

The BSHI Diploma and the MSc in clinical science (blood sciences) are both entry qualifications for The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) examinations in H&I. RCPath training in H&I is a structured, in-service training plan for H&I healthcare scientists who wish to develop the skills necessary to work at consultant level.

Candidates who successfully complete both the Part 1 and Part 2 Fellowship Examinations are awarded the title of Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath).

For those wanting to work as consultants, it is possible to join the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme, a five-year workplace-based training programme with study towards doctoral-level qualifications. Completion of the HSST programme will include the requirement to achieve FRCPath.

For entry on to this route, applicants will need:

  • registration (or eligibility and application underway) with the HCPC as a clinical scientist;
  • at least one further year in the workplace to consolidate and enhance clinical scientific skills, learning and experience (including research and education);
  • the ability to demonstrate meeting any additional specific selection criteria required for a particular specialism at interview.

Career prospects

Career progression to professional grade for healthcare scientists working in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I), following successful completion of a training period, may involve moving to other hospitals or related agencies, such as NHS Blood and Transplant, or to other regions of the UK.

Further study and training is likely to follow, with the expectation that staff undertake professional qualifications with a relevant professional body such as the:

H&I offers the chance to specialise in many fields such as platelet immunology/haematology, classical serology or type of transplantation, e.g. kidney.

Advancement within the professional grade is based on merit and can be encouraged through the completion of 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.

It is possible to apply for principal scientist or consultant 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.

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

Staff can also develop their career through management and teaching.