Healthcare scientists (also known as clinical scientists) working in clinical physiology examine the functioning of organs and body systems in order to diagnose abnormalities and disease.

They use specialised equipment and techniques to measure, for example, the functioning of hearing and balance or of organs such as the heart, lungs and brain in patients who may be seriously ill or have long-term health problems.

Healthcare scientists working in clinical physiology record and report the physiological data they obtain to help diagnose disease, plan treatment and management of long-term care, and measure the effects of previous treatment. They often work in hospitals, although some work in the community visiting patients.

Types of healthcare scientist, physiology

The areas covered by physiological sciences are:

  • audiology;
  • cardiac sciences;
  • clinical perfusion science;
  • critical care science;
  • gastrointestinal physiology;
  • neurophysiology;
  • ophthalmic and vision science;
  • respiratory physiology;
  • sleep physiology;
  • urodynamics and vascular science.

Job titles will vary according to the specialist area.

Responsibilities

Tasks undertaken very much depend on the area in which you choose to specialise. However, in general the work may include:

  • using specialised equipment to perform clinical physiological tests;
  • recording and analysing physiological data from equipment in order to help medical staff diagnose or manage conditions;
  • reporting physiological data to help diagnose disease, identify treatment regimes and measure the effects of treatment;
  • measuring the functions of a patient's body, such as digestion or breathing;
  • getting patients and equipment into correct locations and positions for monitoring;
  • giving assistance and reassurance to patients during their medical tests and/or operations;
  • monitoring patients' conditions and providing them with relevant information and instructions to help educate them about their care;
  • maintaining and calibrating equipment, including therapeutic and diagnostic equipment used in patients' homes;
  • ensuring the safe use of expensive and complex equipment and any related substances;
  • reporting equipment faults and ensuring that appropriate levels of medical consumables are maintained.

Healthcare scientists working in clinical physiology may also provide clinical supervision and training of junior and trainee staff.

Salary

  • Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands.
  • Salaries for trainee healthcare scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) are typically around £25,000 (plus location allowance where applicable).
  • 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.

Income data from NHS Agenda for Change. 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. Flexible and part-time work is available.

What to expect

  • Work is mostly hospital-based, either in operating theatres, in outpatient departments and clinics or on the wards.
  • Some hospitals provide services to smaller 'cottage hospitals' or within community settings, including patients' homes.
  • Work is carried out as part of a multidisciplinary team alongside a range of health and social care professionals such as nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists and porters.
  • Physiological scientists are often responsible for patients' health when they are very seriously ill. They may also have to deal with unwilling or uncooperative patients.
  • Some posts may involve lifting heavy equipment.
  • There is an emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness, particularly if you work in an operating theatre, where special gowns, gloves, footwear and masks must be worn.
  • Travel within the working day may be required to attend other hospitals or clinics or to visit patients in their homes.
  • Overseas travel and absence from home overnight is unlikely.

Qualifications

In order to work as a healthcare scientist in clinical physiology 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 that generally involve leadership and research. 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 your chosen area of specialism.

Entry on to the STP is competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree in a related discipline 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. Pre-entry work experience, for example through a placement in a hospital department, is extremely valuable when applying for a place. Arrange visits to hospital departments or make speculative applications for short-term work experience in relevant departments and clinics.

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. For more information on how and when to apply see NHS Education for Scotland: Clinical Scientists. There is a separate scientist training scheme for Northern Ireland - NI Direct Healthcare Scientist.

For those without a degree, undergraduate training that leads to a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science accredited by the National School of 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. These requirements may vary so check with individual institutions before applying.

Courses are full time (usually three years) and include at least 50 weeks of workplace-based training in the NHS. Applications are made via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 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. Other options include work in industry, the not-for-profit sector or private healthcare.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a combination of technical expertise and well-developed interpersonal skills;
  • manual dexterity, coordination and sensory skills to be able to use diagnostic equipment and quickly apply multiple electrodes;
  • 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;
  • IT skills;
  • the ability to work effectively as part of a team and also the skills to lead and motivate others;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • the capability to work well under pressure;
  • emotional resilience and good self-awareness.

Overall good health is necessary to protect both the patients and yourself.

Employers

The majority of healthcare scientists working in clinical physiology spend most of their career working for the National Health Service (NHS) in hospital clinics and departments, or as part of a surgical team. Some, however, work in the community and will visit patients at home or school.

Some are employed by universities to assist with and carry out research. These posts are often linked to related university hospitals.

The private healthcare sector also employs healthcare scientists working in clinical physiology in a variety of hospitals and clinics.

The armed forces employ clinical physiologists to help diagnose heart, lung and brain conditions. The work environment ranges from modern hospitals to field units with specialised portable equipment. For details, see Army Jobs.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies may be advertised through the professional bodies representing the different areas of clinical physiology.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Trainee healthcare scientists (also known as clinical scientists) undertake three years of training accredited by the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) when on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). They spend the first year of training on rotation in a range of settings before specialising in years two and three.

Trainees also follow a period of structured part-time study alongside practical training. This includes an MSc in clinical science in your area of specialism, for example cardiac science or audiology.

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 clinical physiology 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.

On-the-job training may include training relating to specific equipment or techniques within your specialist area. The type of training offered depends on the department and the area of work. Training on new equipment may be delivered by the manufacturers.

Professional bodies also offer training on topics related to your area of specialism.

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.

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 prospects

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

Career development varies depending on your area of clinical specialism, for example cardiac science or audiology. Within each of these areas, there is the possibility to specialise further, for example in echocardiographic techniques or cochlear implants.

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. 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 and research.