Healthcare scientists, (also known as clinical scientists), working in immunology are responsible for investigating the functions of the body's immune system and applying this knowledge in order to diagnose and monitor a range of diseases and disorders.
They are concerned with understanding the development and effects of abnormal immune responses, which are associated with conditions including autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiencies, allergies and transplant rejection.
Healthcare scientists working in immunology work as part of a team and are at the forefront of research and innovation. Doctors can also specialise in immunology but this is a very different career route, for more information see hospital doctor.
In addition to clinical immunology, immunologists can work within academic settings and in industrial research.
Clinical immunology is a fast developing area of the NHS, although there are currently only a few dedicated NHS immunology laboratories in each NHS region.
Work activities may involve:
- investigating patients' immune systems and researching the causes of any problems;
- undertaking a wide range of laboratory-based activities to help diagnose, monitor and treat patients with a range of immunological disorders, including AIDS, cancers and allergies;
- working directly with patients and running specialised patient clinics;
- liaising with clinical and laboratory staff, such as biomedical scientists, paediatricians and immunology nurse specialists, to discuss patient treatment plans;
- prescribing specific types of treatment for individual patients;
- producing quantitative data in the form of reports and providing key information to medical staff about a patient's condition;
- assisting colleagues in the interpretation of test results;
- maintaining accurate and detailed records.
Healthcare scientists at more senior levels may perform additional activities such as:
- teaching or training medical students and other hospital staff, e.g. nursing and portering staff;
- applying for and managing departmental and/or laboratory finances and resources;
- taking responsibility for working towards targets;
- liaising with immunology colleagues on a regional or national basis.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
- Salaries for trainee healthcare scientists typically range from £25,783 to £34,530 (Band 6).
- Salaries for those with experience (Band 7) range from £30,764 to £40,558.
- Salaries for principal scientists and consultant scientists, the highest grade at which healthcare scientists work, range from £39,239 (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.
Following training, healthcare scientists must be available seven days a week. They are expected to work unsocial hours in the evenings and at weekends because their laboratory services often need to fit in with hospital hours. 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
- Healthcare scientists working in laboratory-based roles liaise closely with medical and other hospital staff. Those in clinical roles have more direct contact with patients and their families, as well as other clinical professionals.
- Self-employment is rare due to the specialised equipment and materials required to do the job.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK, although relocation is often necessary for career progression as there are currently only a few dedicated NHS immunology laboratories in each NHS region.
- Travel during the working day is uncommon although visits to other hospitals/clinics may occur.
In order to work as a healthcare scientist in clinical immunology 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 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 blood sciences (for those wanting to work in immunology).
Entry on to the STP is competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree in life sciences (e.g. 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.
An MSc or a PhD in a relevant subject area may be advantageous when applying for trainee positions, but is not a requirement. Additional skills and experience, such as involvement with research projects and publications, may be useful.
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 have been 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.
There are separate scientist training schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, see:
It is possible for those with a degree accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) to apply for trainee biomedical scientist posts in the NHS and ultimately to register with the HCPC as a biomedical scientist. Some biomedical scientists may specialise in immunology.
However, such trainee vacancies are less common and many biomedical science graduates will apply for the STP route. For further details see biomedical scientist.
For those without a degree, undergraduate training that leads to a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science (blood sciences, infection sciences or cellular sciences), accredited by the National School for Healthcare Science, is provided by the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP).
Entry on to the degree course usually requires a good mix of GCSEs at A to C grade and a minimum of two A2/A-levels, including science subjects. Courses are three years full-time and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS.
Applications are made via Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Entry requirements vary so check with individual institutions before applying. For a list of accredited courses see the Health Careers Course Finder.
Graduates from the PTP can then apply to enter the NHS in a healthcare science practitioner role or they may choose to apply for the STP, which offers pay on a higher scale and more opportunities for career progression.
Students successfully graduating from the BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science degrees in the life sciences can usually register as biomedical scientists with the HCPC. Check with the universities or HCPC directly.
Pre-entry experience is not essential, but any work experience in an appropriate environment is useful.
You will need to have:
- communication skills;
- a well-organised approach to work;
- the ability to organise and carry out research;
- teamworking skills;
- a high level of self-motivation;
- meticulous documentation and record-keeping;
- an approach to work that prioritises accuracy, organisation and efficiency;
- confidence in using technology and systems;
- flexibility and adaptability;
- the ability to use your initiative.
The National Health Service (NHS) employs healthcare scientists working in immunology to diagnose and manage the care of patients with a range of immunological disorders through the analysis of samples, post-transplant monitoring and advising of clinicians on appropriate testing strategies.
Opportunities may exist with:
- independent and academic laboratories within the pharmaceutical industry;
- government agencies such as Public Health England;
- the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Outside the clinical setting, immunologists are employed by universities to undertake original research in the medical field and support the training of new immunologists through teaching and supervision.
There are opportunities with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, who employ immunologists to improve their understanding of the immune system and how to apply this to the development of new medical products and therapies in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Immunologists also work in the scientific Civil Service within applied immunology and undertake research into developing new, and improving existing, vaccines and can be employed in veterinary science, researching animal healthcare and treating animals with infections or immunological disorders.
Look for job vancancies at:
- British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (BSHI)
- British Society for Immunology
- Health Careers
- New Scientist Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- National press.
Trainee healthcare scientists undertake three years of training accredited by the National School for Healthcare Science on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). 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 follow a period of structured part-time study alongside practical training. For those wanting to work in immunology this leads to an MSc in clinical immunology.
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).
Once qualified, healthcare scientists working in immunology 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 is an option.
It is also possible to join the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme, a five-year workplace-based training programme and, where appropriate, study for Royal College qualifications. For entry on to this route, applicants will need:
- registration (or eligibility and application underway) with the HCPC as a clinical scientist;
- normally 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 progression to professional grade for healthcare scientists working in immunology, following successful completion of a training period, frequently involves moving to other hospitals in other regions of the UK or to related agencies, such as NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).
Further study and training is likely to follow, with the expectation that staff undertake professional qualifications with a relevant professional body such as British Society for Immunology or study for a PhD.
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.
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.
Some immunologists follow an academic career, while others choose to work in industry or the scientific Civil Service.