Critical Care Scientist

The Job and What's Involved

A critical care scientist has expert knowledge of the physiology and technology involved in the delivery of critical care to patients. Some seriously ill patients depend on a variety of technology to keep them alive and to enable them to be constantly monitored. Critical care scientists are skilled in using this equipment for the maximum benefit of each patient.

They are an essential part of the multidisciplinary care team. By looking after the sophisticated equipment, critical care scientists free other staff, such as doctors and nurses, to focus on their own clinical roles.

The work may include:

  • Responding swiftly to changes in patients' needs.
  • Physiological monitoring and support.
  • Using diagnostic techniques to help the medical team to assess the condition of patients.
  • Quickly repairing or replacing any equipment that malfunctions.
  • Monitoring the equipment and the data it produces while in use.
  • Ensuring consistent support for patients who need to be transferred between units or hospitals.
  • Training medical and nursing staff in the technology, and supervising their use of it.
  • Maintaining and decontaminating equipment.
  • Evaluating and buying new pieces of equipment for the unit.
  • Liaising with suppliers to ensure that essential services, e.g. electricity and gas, are uninterrupted.
  • Keeping records of maintenance checks and purchases.

Critical care scientists must be skilled at using a range of equipment, including:

  • Ventilators, which aid breathing.
  • Electrocardiograms (ECGs), which monitor heart rhythm.
  • Brain monitors.
  • Blood filtration machines.
  • Infusion devices, which administer precise amounts of drugs or fluids.
  • Haemodialysis machines, which support kidney functions.

The job requires close working relationships with other healthcare professionals, such as nurses, doctors, anaesthetists and therapists. Critical care scientists also have frequent contact with patients who are critically ill and with their families and friends who may be distressed.

In addition, critical care scientists deal with external suppliers and salespeople to buy in and maintain the right supplies and equipment for the unit.

Critical care scientists work a 37-hour week. Because critical care units always need to be able to call on a scientist, some hospitals work on a shift basis while others use an on-call rota. In all cases this will mean early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays.

Critical care scientists are based within critical care units or other intensive care areas, such as cardiac care wards. Patients in these units must be protected from the risk of cross-infection so staff wear protective clothing, including coats, gloves and masks.

The job may involve bending and carrying some heavy equipment, as well as standing or sitting for long periods. Critical care scientists may also handle some hazardous chemicals.

Salaries for trainee critical care scientists start from around £17,300 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 300 critical care scientists work in critical care and intensive care units, which are generally found in larger hospitals. There are opportunities in towns and cities across the UK.

Most are employed in the National Health Service (NHS). A few work in private hospitals.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local press, on the NHS jobs website (www.jobs.nhs.uk) and in specialist magazines such as Nature and New Scientist.

At the moment there are more vacancies than applicants, so opportunities are good.

Education and Training

At present there are no formal educational requirements but most critical care scientists enter with at least four GCSE's (A*-C) and many have higher qualifications such as:

- A levels or equivalent
- A degree in a relevant engineering or life science subject

The Diploma in society, health and development may also be relevant for this area of work.

When the profession becomes registered the preferred route of entry will then be a vocational degree in clinical physiology, specialising in critical care technology. This will include professional exams set by the Society of Critical Care Technologies.

It will also be possible to enter after taking a degree in another relevant subject. Entrants can then do vocational training and study any required modules of the clinical physiology degree before taking the professional exams.

Those entering without the degree will be expected to study for it on a part-time basis. It will be therefore be considered an advantage to have science A levels (biology, chemistry and physics).

Relevant experience, such as working in healthcare with patients, or with science, is seen as an asset.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Critical care scientists usually train on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. They can study part time for vocational qualifications, such as a degree or postgraduate degree in clinical physiology.

The current clinical physiology degree programme contains core modules such as:

- Anatomy and physiology
- Biomedical sciences
- Applied physics and maths
- Research methods

It also contains separate routes for specialist subjects, such as audiology, cardiology, neurophysiology and respiratory physiology.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A critical care scientist must have:

  • An understanding of human physiology and how technology supports vulnerable people.
  • A mature and responsible outlook.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail, even under pressure.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods.
  • The ability to work in a team.
  • Confidence, to explain and demonstrate aspects of the work to others.
  • Sensitivity, for dealing with patients.
  • An appreciation of clinical conditions and procedures.
  • The ability to work effectively in distressing situations.

Your Long Term Prospects

As this field increases in size, a more formal career structure is developing. Higher grade posts are more likely to involve decision making. With experience, critical care scientists may take on responsibility for managing and training others.

In order to progress to the highest grades, scientists will usually be expected to have a PhD.

Get Further Information

The Intensive Care Society, Churchill House,
35 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4SG
Tel: 020 7280 4350
Website: www.ics.ac.uk

NHS Careers
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk and www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

The Society of Critical Care Technologies (SCCT),
6 South Bar, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 9AA
Tel: 01295 273559
Website: www.criticalcaretech.org.uk

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