Clinical Scientist

The Job and What's Involved

Clinical scientists are healthcare and medical experts who support clinical staff in their work with patients. Their work is very wide ranging and can include laboratory work and testing, basic and applied research, management and teaching.

Individual jobs differ widely but overall, clinical science includes:

  • Working closely with doctors, giving advice on which tests to use to find out what is wrong with a patient, interpreting the results of those tests, and using scientific knowledge to guide doctors' treatment.
  • Devising scientific or engineering solutions to assist doctors in treating patients.
  • Using research to develop and test new methods of diagnosis and treatment.
  • For some clinical scientists, the responsibility of managing a team of biomedical scientists, medical technical officers, medical laboratory assistants and clerical support staff.

Most clinical scientists specialise as one of the following:

Audiological scientist - identifying, diagnosing and rehabilitating disorders of hearing and balance. They assess and develop methods of measuring and compensating for hearing loss, working directly with patients.

Clinical biochemist - analysing body fluids and tissues to diagnose, monitor and advise on treatment of patients, provide advice on the selection and interpretation of tests, and develop and implement new investigations. The work may involve screening for possible medical problems.

Clinical cytogeneticist and molecular geneticist - studying chromosomes and cellular DNA from samples of blood, tissue, bone marrow or other body fluids to define and diagnose genetic diseases.

Clinical embryologist - investigating the various scientific areas of infertility, including IVF treatment and assisted reproduction.

Clinical immunologist - developing new tests and treatments involving the manipulation of the immune system to treat conditions and diseases such as AIDS, allergies and leukaemia.

Clinical microbiologist - identifying bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections in patients. This work helps with the control and prevention of epidemics.

Clinical scientist in histocompatibility and immunogenetics - determining and matching the immunogenetic characteristics of potential donors and recipients of organ transplants, bone marrow transplantation and platelet therapy.

Respiratory physiology scientist - identifying, diagnosing, monitoring and treating disorders of the respiratory system. Work includes investigations of sleep disordered breathing and studies of breathing during exercise. They assess and develop methods of measuring and assessing lung disease, working directly with patients.

Clinical scientists usually work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Requirements vary between specialisms but there is generally some on-call, evening or weekend work.

Depending on their speciality, they may work in laboratories or specialist departments. Contact with patients varies widely depending on their specific role.

Clean, often sterile, working conditions are required. It is sometimes necessary for clinical scientists to wear protective clothing, including overalls, coats, gloves, masks and safety glasses. Some work involves using ionising radiation.

Starting salaries for trainees in the NHS may be from around £23,000 a year. Those working in or near London receive an additional allowance. Salaries in the private sector may be higher.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Entry is with a first or upper second class degree in a subject related to the specific clinical science position. Relevant subjects include biochemistry, biology, chemistry, engineering, genetics, microbiology, physics and physiology.

Entry to a degree course requires a minimum of two A levels/three H grades, including appropriate science subjects, plus five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3). A range of equivalent qualifications may be accepted, including a relevant BTEC National Certificate/Diploma or an International Baccalaureate.

For some jobs a postgraduate qualification is required. Entry to a Masters degree is usually with at least an upper second class degree.

Exams You Might Need

Clinical scientists begin in the NHS as pre-registration trainees. Training is mainly a combination of continued study by, for example, studying for an appropriate Masters degree, and building up of experience through on-the-job learning.

After a minimum of four years in a training post, clinical scientists can apply for registration with the Health Professions Council. This is essential for career development and allows clinical scientists to work unsupervised. To be registered, clinical scientists require a Certificate of Attainment, awarded by the Association of Clinical Scientists. The Certificate is obtained through successful completion of an appropriate Masters degree and training programme.

Clinical Scientists are expected to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) involving private study, attendance at conferences, and clinical and scientific meetings and workshops.

When they are in a higher training post, clinical scientists often work towards membership of the professional body appropriate to their specialism, or equivalent chartered status. They may also work towards a PhD.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clinical scientist should:

  • Have a high level of ability in science.
  • Be able to cope with large amounts of responsibility.
  • Be able to work in, and lead, a team of professionals.
  • Be capable of working accurately and with attention to detail.
  • Have good problem-solving skills.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to put patients at ease.
  • Have good IT skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progression is based on merit and performance. More senior positions have equivalent status to that of a medical consultant and usually involve the management of a large department, or of a major departmental section.

Clinical scientists may choose to work outside of the NHS, or move into training co-workers. Movement between employers in order to progress is common.

There are opportunities for clinical scientists to work abroad.

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Get Further Information

The Association for Clinical Biochemistry (ACB),
130-132 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU
Tel: 020 7403 8001

Association of Clinical Cytogeneticists. Oxford Medical Genetic Laboratories,
The Churchill, Old Road, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LJ
Tel: 01865 226001

The Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE),
82A High Street, Sawston, Cambridge CB2 4HJ
Tel: 01223 830665

Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS), The Administrator,
c/o The Association for Clinical Biochemistry,
130-132 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU
Tel: 020 7940 8960

Association for Respiratory Technology & Physiology (ARTP), Suite 4,
Sovereign House, Gate Lane, Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B73 5TT
Tel: 0845 226 3062

British Society of Audiology, 80 Brighton Road, Reading, Berkshire RG6 1PS
Tel: 0118 966 0622

British Society for Haematology, 100 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7713 0990

British Society for Histocompatability and Immunogenetics (BSHI)
45-49 Austorpe Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS15 8BA

British Society for Immunology (BSI),
Vintage House, 37 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TL

Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

Health Protection Agency (HPA), Central Office,
7th Floor, Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP
Tel: 020 7759 2700

Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM),
Fairmount House, 230 Tadcaster Road, York YO24 1ES
Tel: 01904 610821

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

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