Biomedical scientist

All you need to know about becoming a biomedical scientist

Did you know?

  • More than 70 per cent of all diagnoses in the NHS are based on laboratory test results
  • More than 150 million samples are handled by laboratory services in the UK every year
  • Biomedical Scientist is a legally protected title. To protect the public anyone using the title must be professionally registered.

What do they do?

Operating theatres, accident and emergency (A&E) and many other hospital departments would not function without biomedical scientists.

The transfusion department test and provide blood in emergencies such as road traffic accidents, stabbings and traumatic births. They also test samples in order to provide blood for transfusions.

They also investigate a range of medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, blood disorders, meningitis and hepatitis. They also perform a key role in screening for diseases, identifying those caused by bacteria and viruses and monitoring the effects of medication and other treatments.

They work with computers, sophisticated automated equipment, microscopes and other hi-tech laboratory equipment. There are three specific areas: infection sciences, blood sciences and cellular sciences.

Under the microscope, a whole new world opens up to reveal the chaotic architecture of tumours, the teaming bacteria that cause disease as well as the millions of cells that carry oxygen in the blood.

Using their knowledge of chemistry and biology, they help to analyse levels of molecules and hormones to diagnose disease or ensure treatment is working.

What they do is vital in helping to make a better diagnosis and find the right treatment for patients.

Where could I work?

You could work for an NHS hospital trust or other NHS organisations. There are also opportunities with NHS Blood and Transplant and Public Health England. You will work as part of a team including other healthcare science staff, doctors and nurses.

Sounds like my dream job. Where can I get further information?

To practice as a biomedical scientist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work in the UK. You first need to successfully complete an HCPC- approved programme. You are then eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC. There are three routes to gain this registration:

  • NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP)
  • Accredited degree in biomedical science
  • A-levels/equivalent

NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP)
A number of universities run BSc (Hons) healthcare science degrees in life sciences with options to specialise in blood sciences, infection sciences or cellular sciences. If you graduate from these accredited degrees, you can apply to register as a biomedical scientist with the HCPC. You must check with each university running BSc healthcare science degrees in the life sciences, to confirm this is the case.

Accredited degree in biomedical science
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 HCPC, you can gain employment with the NHS as a trainee biomedical scientist. While working, you need to follow a period of in service training in a laboratory setting, during which you’re required to complete a portfolio that evidences your acquisition of competence. At the end of this period, your application is externally verified by the IBMS for the award of a Certificate of Competence as evidence that you have met the HCPC standard of proficiency. This can be used to support your application for admittance to the HCPC register in order to practice as a biomedical scientist.

If you have graduated with a non IBMS-accredited degree, you should contact the IBMS to have your degree assessed.

A-levels/equivalent qualification
With A-levels in life sciences and/or equivalent as a trainee biomedical scientist, however this is only possible if your 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.

For further information take a look at NHS Careers.

Case study: trainee biomedical scientist

As you walk into the laboratory at Scunthorpe hospital all you hear and see is the sound of whirring machines being operated by people in white coats. The benches are filled with all shapes and sizes of high-tech equipment including microscopes, centrifuges and analysers.

Trainee biomedical scientist Tracey Smith talks about her role:

“I was always interested in science at school, and health really appealed to me so I checked out biomedical science. I went to Hull University where I did my degree before going onto complete a Masters in translational oncology.

“I started work 18 months ago as an assistant which I did for six months, before becoming a trainee. I have recently finished my portfolio so hope to receive my Certificate of Competence so I can become registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

“I love coming to work as no one day is ever the same. We might not have direct contact with patients but it is great to know we are playing our part as without us clinicians would struggle to diagnose and treat people.”

The tight-knit team receive thousands of samples a day including blood, urine, faeces, sputum, swabs, tissue and lots of others. It is their job to test the samples to find out if there are any abnormalities or indicators that something is wrong.

The teams at NLaG are multidisciplinary so they cover microbiology, haematology, biochemistry and transfusion. There is a plethora of tests they carry out, many of them are routine and run of the mill but they all help to tell what is going on in a person’s body.

Tracey said: “At times we have to turn tests round as fast as we can as it could be a blood sample from A&E from someone who has had an accident, or been injured. Or it could be something as routine as a blood sample from a GP practice as they need a full blood count doing on a patient.

“I guess the thought of analysing faeces (poo) would put some people off but it really doesn’t bother me. It is merely a means to an end in helping to find out what is wrong with that patient.”

If the results are abnormal the biomedical scientist has to make a decision as to whether they are valid, for example a full blood count could show platelets are low. It could be because the sample has clotted which will give a false result. In that case it might need to go for further testing to see why the count is low.

Tracey said: “It might sound macabre but I like it when we receive mortuary samples. We don’t get them that often, but I was recently testing vitreous (eye) fluid which was really interesting.

“I really like Scunthorpe hospital as the people here are absolutely fantastic. I have made so many friends and the support they have given me is terrific. They have helped me develop so much over the last 18 months. I learnt a lot at university but actually applying it in a real place helps real patients; it is an incredible feeling.”

As well as the testing, the team are also responsible for the transfusion service and maintain, monitor and replenish the blood bank.