Biomedical scientists carry out a range of tests on body tissue and body fluid samples to help doctors diagnose and treat disease. Most biomedical scientists work in the National Health Service (NHS).
Biomedical scientists work closely with doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals by performing many different roles in NHS laboratories. They make use of a wide range of complex techniques that include computers, sophisticated automated equipment, microscopes and other technologically advanced laboratory equipment. Most biomedical scientists in hospitals specialise in one of the following areas:
Cellular Pathology - preparing and investigating tissue samples from surgical operations and autopsies (histopathology) and cellular material from almost any part of the body (cytology - this area is best known for screening cervical smears).
Clinical chemistry - analysing blood and other biological materials to diagnose diseases such as diabetes, test liver and kidney function, detect poisons or drug misuse and monitor the progress of treatment. This work is highly automated, using very sophisticated equipment.
Haematology - studying the structures and functions of the different types of blood cells, counting blood cells, identifying abnormalities and estimating haemoglobin levels. These tests help in the diagnosis of anaemia and leukaemia. Abnormalities of blood coagulation (clotting) are also studied.
Immunology - investigating abnormalities and disturbances in a patient's immune system associated with conditions and diseases such as allergies, leukaemia, tumours and AIDS. This work includes tissue typing for tissue grafts and organ transplants.
Medical microbiology - isolating and identifying micro-organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, and testing their susceptibility to antibodies. Diseases diagnosed can include meningitis, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, tuberculosis and septicaemia.
Transfusion science - identifying blood groups and testing for the compatibility of donors' blood with that of patients. They also prepare blood transfusions and plasma for administering to patients.
Virology - identifying viral infections such as hepatitis, AIDS, rubella and influenza.
The work of biomedical scientists in laboratories outside the NHS can include carrying out routine tests on food, water, animal or forensic samples, depending on the type of laboratory.
Biomedical scientists may have the opportunity to be involved in research.
Biomedical scientists in the NHS usually work a 37-hour week. In some departments this may involve shift work, as well as on-call evening or weekend work. Part-time work is possible.
Clean (sometimes sterile) working conditions are necessary. Protective clothing, including overalls, coats, gloves, masks and safety glasses, is worn when needed.
The work can involve sitting or standing at a bench or a piece of specialist equipment for long periods.
Starting salaries for newly-qualified biomedical scientists in the NHS are at least £19,166 a year.
There are around 20,485 biomedical scientists practising in the UK, a number that has remained fairly stable over the past few years. Most work in hospital laboratories in the NHS. There are also opportunities in:
Job vacancies are advertised in Biomedical Scientist and New Scientist as well as on the NHS jobs website - (https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/).
To become a biomedical scientist it is necessary to complete a degree course. The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) accredits and approves appropriate degree courses in biomedical science The IBMS website gives further details.
It is also possible to become a biomedical scientist by taking a relevant science degree, such as chemistry or microbiology, and combining this with a postgraduate qualification in biomedical science.
Entry to a biomedical science degree usually requires a minimum of two A levels/three H grades, including chemistry and biology, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English, science and maths. A range of relevant equivalent qualifications might be accepted.
Applicants are advised to check directly with the universities to which they plan to apply to confirm acceptable alternatives.
On entry to work, trainees are trained on the job by their employers. To work as a biomedical scientist it is necessary to be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC). To become registered it is necessary to achieve:
A biomedical science degree accredited by the IBMS.
A minimum of one year's in-service training in an approved laboratory. This may be achieved as part of a sandwich degree course or by taking one of the new co-terminus biomedical science degree courses, which have work-based laboratory training as an integral part of the course. This means that students taking the co-terminus degrees have fulfilled the in-service training requirement by the end of the degree course. Courses last three years full time, but are also available part time through block release.
Submission of a logbook, known as the Certificate of Competence Registration Portfolio.
A final assessment via an oral examination.
Success at this stage leads to the IBMS Certificate of Competence which must be submitted to the HPC with an application for registration.
The education and training of biomedical scientists is a process which continues throughout their careers. Progression usually requires a higher qualification. These include:
The IBMS also runs short courses under their Continuing Professional Development scheme to ensure skills and knowledge are kept up to date.
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Biomedical scientists should:
On entry, biomedical scientists usually specialise in one of the laboratory disciplines mentioned at the beginning of the article.
In the NHS, there is a clear progression route for registered biomedical scientists up to those working at professional manager level.
Progression can involve being in charge of a section within a laboratory, managing a department, or moving into research or training.
There may be opportunities to work overseas in paid and voluntary work, particularly in developing countries.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE),
Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS
Tel: 0845 345 0055
Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Health Protection Agency Central Office, 7th Floor,
Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP
Tel: 020 7759 2700
Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS),
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214
Medical Research Council (MRC), 20 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AL
Tel: 020 7636 5422
NHS Blood and Transplant, Oak House, Reeds Crescent, Watford WD24 4QN
Tel: 01923 486800
Working in the NHS:
England: NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Scotland: Careers and Opportunities
in NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.