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Biomedical science

Biomedical science

Biomedical scientists carry out a range of laboratory and scientific tests to support the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Many hospital departments could not function without them, including operating theatres and accident and emergency (A&E) departments.

In a blood sciences department supporting A&E, your work would include testing for emergency blood transfusions and grouping as well as taking tests on patient samples who may have overdosed, had a heart attack or a thrombosis.

Cancer, diabetes, blood disorders, anaemia, meningitis, hepatitis and AIDS are just some of the medical conditions that you could be investigating as a biomedical scientist. You would also perform a key role in screening for diseases such as cancer, identifying those caused by bacteria and viruses and monitoring the effects of medication and other treatments.

You would learn to work with computers, sophisticated automated equipment, microscopes and other hi-tech laboratory equipment and you would employ a wide range of complex modern techniques in your day-to-day work.

The work is highly varied, practical and analytical. You would usually specialise in one of three specific areas:

Infection sciences

Rapid diagnosis is particularly important in infection science in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and ensure the most appropriate use of antibiotics.

You are likely to specialise in a particular area of infection sciences:

  • medical microbiology - detecting disease that causes micro-organisms by using molecular testing equipment or cultured for identification and susceptibility to antibiotic therapy. Diseases diagnosed in this way include meningitis, food poisoning, and legionnaires disease.
  • virology - testing for infections such as rubella, herpes, hepatitis and HIV and also screen selected populations at risk from virus disease.

Blood sciences

All blood sciences work together to provide the necessary information to inform diagnosis and treatment but you might specialise in a particular area of blood sciences:

  • clinical chemistry - analysing blood and other biological materials to assist the diagnosis of, for example, diabetes. You would carry out, thyroid, kidney and liver function tests and help monitor therapies.
  • transfusion science  - supporting hospital blood banks and the blood transfusion service and ensuring that the blood groups of both donors and patients are compatible and making sure the correct blood transfusion products and plasma fractions are available to administer to patients.
  • haematology includes the study of the morphology and physiology of blood to identify abnormalities within the different types of blood cells. Such tests are necessary to diagnose different types of anaemia and leukaemia You would also carry out tests to diagnose other life threatening conditions including thrombosis and Malaria.
  • immunology - dealing with the conditions of the body's immune system and its role in infectious diseases, allergies, tumour growth, tissue grafts and organ transplants. This discipline is particularly important in the monitoring and treatment of AIDS.

Cellular sciences

You are likely to specialise in a specifc area of cellular sciences:

  • histopathology  - processing tissue samples from surgical operations and autopsies, using specialist techniques. Increasingly using state of the art molecular testing equipment to detect cancer in tissue samples.
  • cytology - analysing tissue and fluid samples including cervical smears but also providing a non-gynaecological service. Like histopathology specialised techniques are used to prepare and study samples of cellular materials, in the detection of cancer.
  • reproductive science - analysing samples to detect infertility.
Skills required

Success in modern healthcare relies on the accuracy and efficiency of work by biomedical scientists as patients' lives and the treatment of illness depend on their skill and knowledge.

You will need effective communication and team working skills. You will also need to be confident with technology and systems/processes. If you work in a role with responsibility for resources (such as staff, budgets or equipment) you'll need excellent leadership skills and be able to use your initiative within the remit of your job role.

More information on the skills required to work in healthcare science.

Entry points and requirements

There are currently three main entry points into training as a biomedical scientist:

  • Via an accredited integrated BSc degree in Healthcare Science (life sciences). It is essential to contact universities directly to clarify what they will accept for entry onto their programmes, and also whether any particular experience is required or preferred. For a list of the universities running these courses, please use our coursefinder 
  • With an honours degree in biomedical science from one of the UK education centres accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) and approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), by gaining employment with the NHS as a trainee biomedical scientist. See below for details of entry requirements
  • With A levels in life sciences and/or equivalent as a trainee biomedical scientist, however this is only possible if the employer is willing to offer financial support and the time off to study for the degree on a part-time basis.

Training and education programmes

Biomedical scientists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work in the NHS. There are three main routes to achieve this:

  • A number of universities run BSc Healthcare Science degrees in life sciences with options to specialise in blood sciences, infection sciences or cellular sciences. A small number of these universities (including the University of the West of England and the University of Portsmouth) have achieved recognition from the HCPC, whereby students graduating from these particular universities can register as biomedical scientists with the HCPC. You must check with each university running BSc healthcare science degrees in the life sciences, to establish whether this is the case.For the most up to date list of accredited BSc Healthcare Science degrees, please use our coursefinder or visit the NHS Networks website.
  • Graduates with an honours degree in biomedical science from one of the UK education centres accredited by the IBMS and approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) can gain employment with the NHS as a trainee biomedical scientist. While working, they need to follow a period of in service training in a laboratory setting, during which they are required to complete a portfolio that evidences their acquisition of competence. At the end of this period, their application is externally verified by the IBMS for the award of a Certificate of Competence as evidence that they have met the HCPC standard of proficiency. This can be used to support an application for admittance to the register in order to practice as a biomedical scientist.
  • It is also possible to start work with A levels in life sciences and/or equivalent as a trainee biomedical scientist, however this is only possible if the employer is willing to offer financial support and the time off to study for the degree on a part-time basis, then the training would be completed as above.

Applications

For full-time courses in biomedical science and healthcare science (life sciences), applications are made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)

Vacancies for trainee biomedical scientists posts are advertised in sources including NHS Jobs and New Scientist.

Registration

For registration as a biomedical scientist, individuals must hold one of the approved qualifications listed on the HCPC website. These include BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science (Life Science) programmes accredited as fit for NHS purpose.

Please check individual job vacancy details for information when applying.

Progressing your career

You will have the opportunity to develop your career to meet the needs of the service. This will be through advanced training, for example Accredited Specialist Practice, or with other relevant qualifications in for example, management or education and training.

Many biomedical scientists take charge of a section within the laboratory or manage a department. You may become involved in advanced scientific work, quality assurance, research or training.

You could also apply for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).

The professional body for biomedical scientists is the Institute of Biomedical Science which helps biomedical scientists develop their careers and scientific knowledge, and  provides personal and professional support.  For more information on the categories of membership available visit www.ibms.org

Pay

Information about pay for staff working in healthcare science.

Further information

National School of Healthcare Science
St Chad's Court
213 Hagley Road
Birmingham
B16 9RG

Tel: 0121 695 2529
Website:www.nshcs.org.uk

Institute of Biomedical Science
12 Coldbath Square
London
EC1R 5HL

Tel: 020 7713 0214
Email:mail@ibms.org
Website:www.ibms.org