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How to become a Clinical Scientist

clinical scientist careers

What does a Clinical Scientist do?

Clinical scientists support hospital medical staff by advising on suitable tests to diagnose a patient's condition, interpreting the test results, and suggesting methods of treatment to doctors. Through research they develop and test new methods of diagnosis and treatment, and advise doctors on the use and purchase of commercial products and equipment.

They may be responsible for the management and work of a team of biomedical scientists, medical technical officers, medical laboratory assistants and clerical support staff. The job includes setting and maintaining quality and performance standards, and developing the service offered.

Clinical scientists often specialise and work as one of the following:

Clinical biochemist: analyses body fluids and tissues to aid diagnosis and advise on treatment of patients. Work includes screening to identify potential medical problems or abuse of drugs. There are opportunities to specialise in branches such as paediatrics or toxicology.

Clinical cytogeneticist/molecular geneticist: studies chromosomes and cellular DNA from samples of tissue or body fluids to diagnose genetic diseases. This helps doctors manage patients with genetic disorders, carriers or pre-symptomatic individuals or those with reproductive difficulties.

Clinical embryologist: involves research into infertility, including IVF treatment and assisted reproduction.

Clinical immunologist: develops tests and treatments which manipulate the immune system to treat diseases such as AIDS, allergies and leukaemia.

Clinical microbiologist: identifies bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections in patients. Much of this work is for the Public Health Laboratory Service, helping with control and prevention of epidemics.

Clinical scientist in haemostasis and thrombosis: identifies specific imbalances in the blood between blood coagulation (clotting) and anti-coagulation factors, supporting the identification and treatment of conditions such as haemophilia and thrombosis.

Clinical scientist in histocompatibility and immunogenetics: matches the immunogenetic characteristics of potential donors and recipients of platelet therapy and organ and bone marrow transplants.

Audiological scientist: identifies certain neurological diseases and disorders of hearing and balance. They assess and develop methods of measuring and compensating for hearing loss, working directly with patients, mostly children and the elderly.

Medical physicist: applies physical sciences to improve diagnosis and treatment of disease, and implements safety precautions in use of hazardous substances and procedures for patients and other healthcare workers.

Clinical engineer: designs and develops instruments for patient monitoring, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and research. They are also responsible for the quality assurance of patient-connected equipment in hospitals.

What's the working environment like working as a Clinical Scientist?

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. Many of the specialisms are delivered on a regional basis, in specialist laboratories in large hospitals, or in a Public Health Laboratory.

Specialist equipment and computers are used. Clean and often sterile working conditions are a requirement for this work, so protective clothing and safety glasses are worn as necessary. The work can involve sitting or standing for long periods. Some clinical scientists need to be mobile if their work includes fitting or monitoring specialist equipment used directly with patients. Contact with patients varies widely depending on the specialism.

What does it take to become a Clinical Scientist?

To be a clinical scientist you should:

  • have a high level of ability and interest in sciences and computing
  • have an interest in medicine and in the development of new methods of patient care and treatment
  • be accurate, able to concentrate for long periods
  • have a high level of attention to detail when working in the laboratory and with sophisticated equipment
  • have high ethical standards and the ability to take responsibility for making decisions
  • have an enquiring mind and good problem solving skills to lead a research and development team
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • be able to reassure nervous patients if working in branches where contact is likely.

Clinical Scientist Career Opportunities

There are opportunities in the NHS, in the diagnostics and pharmaceutical industries, and in private hospitals and research institutes. Clinical microbiologists may also work for the Public Health Laboratory Service.

Once appointed to a Grade B position, progression above a certain point is on merit and performance. Only a small number of clinical scientists are appointed to Grade C positions.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Clinical Scientist that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

NHS Learning and Development Service
Tel: 08000 150 850
Email: learning@nhscareers.nhs.uk

Recruitment Centre for Clinical Scientists

Association of Clinical Scientists

Health Professions Council
Tel: 020 7582 0866

The following is a list of professional bodies which represent the various specialist fields a clinical scientist can work in. Each organisation provides careers information and a professional membership scheme.

Association of Clinical Biochemists

Society for General Microbiology

British Society for Histocompatability and Immunogenetics

British Society for Immunology

Association of Clinical Embryologists

Association of Clinical Cytogeneticists

Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine

British Academy of Audiology

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Courses to help you become a Clinical Scientist