Clinical Physiologist

The Job and What's Involved

Clinical physiologists carry out procedures and investigations on patients to help in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of disease. They measure, evaluate and record the capacity of various parts of the body to function normally.

There are four main clinical physiology specialties:

Cardiac physiologists - investigate the function of the heart to assist in diagnosing heart disease.

Gastroenterology physiologists - use specialised instruments to measure the performance of different aspects of the digestive tract. They work with patients who are suspected or known to have digestive tract problems.

Neurophysiologists - investigate the function of the nervous system in order to diagnose and monitor disorders such as epilepsy, strokes, dementia, nerve and muscle dysfunction and multiple sclerosis.

Respiratory physiologists - conduct a wide range of procedures and investigations on patients suspected of having respiratory problems.

Clinical physiologists analyse their procedure results and report on them to the doctors responsible for the patients. This helps the doctors to make diagnoses, identify methods of treatment and measure the effects of treatment.

Clinical physiologists may test and adjust equipment and, where appropriate, teach patients how to use it. They work closely with doctors, nurses and other healthcare science staff.

Full-time clinical physiologists usually work 37.5 hours a week. In some departments, this may involve shifts and being on call some evenings or weekends. Part-time work and job share are possible.

Clinical physiologists are normally based in a hospital department devoted to the specialty concerned. They carry out procedures in a clinic or dedicated procedure room. Increasingly, they may work in a community setting away from hospitals, including GP practices, clinics and patients' own homes.

Clean and sometimes sterile working conditions are required. Some physiologists may wear protective clothing, including overalls, coats, gloves and masks. Some lifting and moving of equipment may be involved.

Newly qualified clinical physiologists in the NHS usually start on between £20,225 and £26,123 a year

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most clinical physiologists are employed by the NHS. Some are employed by recruitment agencies and act as locums, who stand in for other physiologists in their absence. A small number work in research, in private healthcare companies and for the armed forces.

Clinical physiologists work throughout the UK but with some concentration in cities and large towns. There are currently over 3,500 cardiac physiologists in post and smaller numbers of respiratory physiologists, neurophysiologists and gastroenterology physiologists. Numbers have remained fairly stable for the past few years. Entry to trainee posts is competitive.

Vacancies may be advertised:

  • In local and national newspapers.
  • On the NHS jobs website and the websites of individual hospitals.
  • By each specialty's professional body.
  • On the websites of some recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

There are two entry routes for this work:

Direct entry - as a trainee in a hospital department with part-time study for a degree in clinical physiology - most clinical physiologists enter through this route.

Studying full time - for a clinical physiology degree before entering the work.

Employers, universities and colleges usually require two or three A levels, including at least one science subject. A number of universities specify two science subjects and some specify biology and/or chemistry as required or preferred subjects. Four or five GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and science subjects, or equivalent qualifications, are also required. Other qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels. They include relevant AS levels, applied A levels, BTEC national and BTEC higher national qualifications, the International Baccalaureate and relevant Access courses. Candidates are recommended to check with individual institutions for specific entry requirements, as they can vary.

Entrants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau, as the work involves dealing with children and vulnerable adults. Entrants are also medically screened to make sure that they are suitable for this work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entrants are trained by senior staff. They are gradually introduced to the more complex procedures as they gain experience. Direct entry trainees attend college or university on a day-release or block-release basis to study for a degree in clinical physiology, with specialty in cardiac, gastroenterology, neurophysiology or respiratory physiology.

A number of colleges and universities in the UK offer full-time or part-time clinical physiology degree courses accredited by the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP). Not every part-time or full-time course offers training for all four specialist areas. See the RCCP website for a list of colleges and universities and what they offer.

Degrees in clinical physiology have a common core of modules, including areas such as anatomy, physiology, biomedical science and applied physics. They also have specialist modules that involve theory and clinical practice.

Both part-time and full-time courses last for four years. Full-time degree courses include one year spent in practice in an NHS clinical physiology department.

There is currently a system of voluntary registration with the RCCP for qualified clinical physiologists, for which a degree in clinical physiology is required. The profession is likely to be approved for registration with the Health Professions Council. When this comes into practice, registration will be compulsory.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clinical physiologist should:

  • Have an aptitude for science.
  • Be good at analysing information.
  • Have excellent communication skills, both spoken and written.
  • Have good numeracy skills.
  • Be attentive to detail.
  • Be able to get on well with people of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  • Be sympathetic but confident in order to earn the trust of patients who may be anxious or unco-operative.
  • Work well as part of a team.
  • Be able to remain calm under pressure, and to cope with emergencies and distressing situations.
  • Treat people with dignity and respect.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion is possible to supervisory, specialist and senior levels within the NHS. It may be necessary to move between hospitals to gain promotion. Further postgraduate study is essential for some specialties.

Some experienced clinical physiologists go into research. Work abroad is possible.

Get Further Information

Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology,
Suite 4, Sovereign House, Gate Lane, Boldmere,
Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B73 5TT
Tel: 0845 226 3062
Website: www.artp.org.uk

Association of Gastrointestinal Physiologists, c/o British Society of Gastroenterology, 3 St Andrews Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4LB
Tel: 020 7387 3534
Website: www.giphysiology.org

Association of Neurophysiological Scientists, c/o Neurophysiology Department,
Birmingham Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham B4 6NH
Website: www.ansuk.org

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk
Jobs website: www.jobs.nhs.uk

The Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP),
Suite 4, Sovereign House, Gate Lane,
Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B73 5TT
Tel: 0845 226 3064
Website: www.rccp.co.uk

The Society for Cardiological Science and Technology,
Suite 4, Sovereign House, 22 Gate Lane,
Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B73 5TT
Tel: 0845 838 6037
Website: www.scst.org.uk

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