NHS Careers > Explore by career > Healthcare science > Careers in healthcare science > Careers in life sciences

Careers in life sciences

Careers in life sciences

Careers in life sciences can be divided into three areas:

Pathology. Healthcare science staff in pathology investigate the causes of illness and how it progresses; carry out tests on tissue, blood and other samples from patients. They play a crucial role in the diagnosis of illness, they help doctors choose the best type of treatment for patients, and monitor its effectiveness.

Genetics. Healthcare science staff in this field play an important role in understanding the genetic components of illnesses.

Reproductive science. This is a rapidly developing field, where healthcare science staff are key in creating life and providing other solutions to infertility.

Where do healthcare scientists in life sciences work?

Healthcare science teams in life sciences work in:

  • hospital laboratories - including clinical pathology laboratories and laboratories in specialist hospitals
  • the community - including clinics
  • agencies such as the National Blood and Transplant Service, or the Health Protection Agency.

What career areas are there in life sciences?

Analytical Toxicology - the scientific identification, measurement and study of the effects of harmful chemicals, biological agents and drug overdoses on the human body. Toxicologists plan and carry out investigations to determine the impact of toxic materials and advise on the treatment of affected patients.

Anatomical pathology - a vital area concerned with understanding and identifying the causes of death, and assisting doctors with post mortems. Offering support to bereaved relatives may also be involved.

Biomedical science - carrying out a range of laboratory and scientific tests to support the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Blood sciences - in hospitals, blood from donors is matched so that it can be given to patients when needed, for example during an operation. Healthcare science staff working for the National Blood and Transplant Service are also involved in the collection, processing and issue of blood components and investigate difficulties encountered with blood and tissue matching.

Clinical biochemistry - Healthcare science staff help diagnose and manage disease through the analysis of blood and other body fluids. They advise hospital doctors and GPs on which tests to ask for, how to use the results of the tests and the options for treatment of the patient.

Clinical immunology - concentrates on conditions that affect the immune system. Healthcare science staff are involved in the diagnosis and monitoring of abnormal immune responses such as allergies, leukaemia and HIV.

Cytopathology and cervical cytology - as well as screening cervical smears, healthcare science staff prepare and examine a range of other cellular samples to look for signs of abnormality.

External quality assurance - monitoring the quality of a variety of diagnostic tests. Healthcare science staff in this field are also involved in auditing and accrediting measurement programmes so that participants reach the right standards.

Genetics - samples of patients' DNA are examined to identify genetic abnormalities that may be responsible for inherited diseases or conditions. Healthcare science staff not only identify abnormal genes but can also predict the likelihood of them being passed on to the next generation.

Haematology (including haemostasis and thrombosis) - haematology is the study of the blood and blood-forming tissues. Healthcare science staff play a major role in the diagnosis and monitoring of patients with disorders of the blood and bone marrow, for example: leukaemia and related blood cancers; anaemia; haemophilia and other bleeding and clotting problems; and sickle cell disease.

Histocompatibility and immunogenetics - healthcare science staff undertake tissue matching for organ and bone marrow transplants. They also develop and apply tests and treatments involving the manipulation of the immune system.

Histopathology - involves the microscopic examination of tissue samples. Healthcare science staff sample and prepare tissues for examination and diagnosis using dyes and specialist techniques to reveal the structure of tissues and cells, so enabling doctors to see what the likely course and outcome of a disease such as cancer will be.

Microbiology - the study of organisms (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic) that cause infections. A large part of the work is the identification of bacteria and the most effective drug to use for treatment. Healthcare science staff may also work in the Health Protection Agency, helping prevent and manage epidemics.

Phlebotomy - taking blood samples to help diagnose or monitor disease. Healthcare science staff in this area have specialist skills that enable them to take blood from babies, children and frail elderly people as well as other patients. They may also assist with more advanced techniques to access blood vessels for diagnosis or treatment.

Reproductive science - a dynamic area dealing with infertility treatments, such as IVF, and other programmes. Healthcare science staff help collect eggs from patients and prepare them for fertilisation.

Virology - the study of viral infections, such as rubella, herpes, hepatitis and HIV.

How can I get into a career in the life sciences?

As a result of Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC), a number of changes have been made to the entry and training for careers in healthcare science.

Specifically, new routes are coming on stream to enter healthcare science: 

Higher Specialist Scientific Training that leads to consultant level is expected to be introduced in 2014.

If you are considering a healthcare science career, you are strongly advised to check this website and other official sources regualrly to get the latest information on the training routes.