NHS Careers > Explore by career > Healthcare science > Careers in healthcare science > Careers in physiological sciences > Respiratory physiology and sleep sciences

Respiratory physiology and sleep sciences

Healthcare science staff in respiratory physiology and sleep sciences are highly skilled practitioners who perform a wide range of routine and highly complex diagnostic tests to assess all aspects of lung function. Sleep disorders are also assessed by sleep scientists and technologists using a variety of non-invasive sleep measuring systems.

Patients (adults or children) may have been referred for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • chest pains
  • abnormal chest x-rays
  • breathing difficulties
  • respiratory disease
  • sleep breathing disorders or other sleep disorders.

As a member of healthcare science staff inrespiratory physiology and sleep sciences, you are likely to work in a team that includes specialist nurses, doctors specialising in respiratory and/or sleep medicine, physiotherapists and other healthcare science staff, such as those specialising in cardiac and neurophysiological sciences

Respiratory physiology

You will work with patients who have lung, chest wall, airway or blood oxygenation problems to understand the causes of their disorder and the response to and monitoring of treatment. Respiratory disorders include conditions such as asthma, fibrosis, emphysema, respiratory muscle disease and pulmonary vascular disorders.

You will work with patients by performing tests using a variety of skills, techniques and equipment, whilst they are at rest or during exercise. You might also help patients in the delivery of their long-term treatment and care, such as oxygen, ventilation or their medication. Tests often require considerable encouragement, technical accuracy and quality and at the same time a caring approach.

Sleep physiology

You will work specifically with patients who have problems of poor sleep quality. An example of this is a condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea where people stop breathing because they collapse the airway in their throat when they are asleep. You will do this by monitoring patients – often using home monitoring but sometimes in a sleep laboratory - and help to identify individual problems, which require treatment and long-term management.

The range of tests that you would perform include full cardio pulmonary exercise testing, sleep studies, bronchial challenge testing and measurements of dynamic and static lung volumes.

Other tests include respiratory gas exchange, muscle function studies, blood gas analysis, and responses to treatment, allergy testing and physiological response to exercise.

You will be responsible for ensuring that safe, accurate, reliable and repeatable results are produced as often patients live or their treatments depend on these.

Research and innovation

Healthcare science staff often work at the forefront of research and innovation, so that patients are continually receiving the very best healthcare.

In respiratory physiology,healthcare science staff are developing new techniques in  transplanting of lungs from donors to recipients. The new treatment involves 'washing' donor organs by connecting them for several hours to a modified heart and lung bypass machine. The lungs are given oxygen and nutrients and treated with antibiotics to tackle infection. Excess fluid is also removed. This technique is known as ex-vivo lung perfusion.

Skills required

To work in respiratory physiology and sleep sciences you will need effective communication and team working skills. You will need a mature, calm, confident but sympathetic approach to achieve the best outcome for each patient - many patients may be anxious about the procedures and will need reassurance from you. You will also need to be confident with technology and systems/processes.

The role of healthcare science staff working in respiratory physiology and sleep sciences is exciting and dynamic. With laboratory techniques constantly evolving, research within respiratory and sleep medicine is constantly advancing and the equipment becoming more specialised and high-tech, the CRP is a challenging, motivating and ultimately rewarding career.

If you work in a role with responsibility for resources (such as staff, budgets or equipment) you must have good 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 three entry points into this area of work.

  • As a healthcare science practitioner through the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) by taking an accredited BSc (Hons) degree in Healthcare Science. You will typically need at least 2 if not three A2/A’ levels including science subjects and a good spread of GCSEs at A-C grade. Alternative/equivalent qualifications may be accepted by some universities, but you are advised to check with each university (or visit their website) before making an application.
  • As a healthcare scientist, after a relevant degree (at a minimum of a 2:1 classification or a 2:2 with appropriate postgraduate qualifications), by applying for a place on the graduate-entry NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).
  • As a consultant healthcare scientist, after gaining postgraduate qualifications and/or considerable relevant experience through Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST).  

It can be advantageous to have gained some experience of working in a relevant environment – such as customer care, or a role with direct patient contact - before applying for a place on a course or job vacancy. You should always check with the course provider/employer to see what sort of experience is preferred or required. Why not contact your local hospital to see if there are any work experience opportunities?

Training and education programmes

The education and training you will take, will depend upon the level at which you are working.

  • To enter via the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) you will need to take a full-time (usually 3-year) accredited integrated BSc degree in Healthcare Science(Respiratory and Sleep Physiology) at university. At least 50 weeks of work-place based training in the NHS is included in these programmes. For the most up to date list of accredited BSc Healthcare Science degrees, please use our coursefinder or visit the NHS Networks website. Applications for full-time courses are made through UCAS.
  • Graduates entering the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) will be employed in a fixed-term, salaried training post and will study towards a masters degree qualification in Clinical Science (Cardiac, Vascular Respiratory and Sleep Sciences).
  • Those entering Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) will study towards doctoral level qualifications.

Programmes are often supported by the development of workplace-based assessment tools, assessment of equivalent learning and the development of academic careers.

No matter what level you are working at, as part of your development you will be expected to do 'Continuing Professional Development' (CPD) to show that you are keeping yourself up to date with the policies and procedures in your area of work.


Many healthcare science roles require registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). For those parts of the workforce not regulated by the HCPC, professional voluntary registers are in operation.

For registration as a Clinical Scientist individuals must hold an Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) Certificate of Attainment granted upon completion of the MSC Scientist Training Programme or AHCS Certificate of Equivalence.  

You can find out more about the Academy's Certificates on its website:  www.ahcs.ac.uk

Please check individual job vacancy details for information when applying.


For information about pay for staff working in healthcare science, please click here.

Further information

For further information about a career in respiratory physiology and sleep sciences please contact:

Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP)
Executive Business Support (EBS)
City Wharf
Davidson Road
WS14 9DZ

Tel: 0845 226 3062
Website: http://www.artp.org.uk/
Email: careers@artp.org.uk