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Key Points in Contemplating  a Career in the Biomedical Sciences

This work is purely about caring for patients and using your skills and training to identify and utilise diagnostic tests and treatments to overcome illnesses and disease conditions of your fellow man. It requires people passionate about technology or science, and about helping others, and a career in healthcare science in the NHS offers a wide range of opportunities. Healthcare scientists play a vital role in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a huge number of medical conditions, as well as in rehabilitation. Along with doctors, nurses and other professions, healthcare scientists are essential members of today's healthcare team. 

There are two branches of healthcare science in hospitals - clinical science and biomedical science. They are two similar but distinct careers with parallel but different training paths and different entry requirements. If you are interested in Clinical Science as a career then see the link on the left box for more information.

Although your biomedical science training may be specifically in one or more of biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, haematology etc, in which specialities you will be assessed by the IBMS, once successfully certificated by them you will eventually register with the HCPC as a Biomedical Scientist.  

The two branches of scientists registered by HCPC are the Biomedical Scientists (about 18000) and Clinical Scientists (about 5000) and unlike all other registered professions, these two have post-graduate qualifications which must be met to allow registration.

There is a strict and formal training programme for both careers as well as state registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) for both, to ensure the safety and assurance of the customers - the patients.

The Institute of Biomedical Scientists (IBMS) and the Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS) act as respective validation organisations to assess and certificate their respective applicants so allowing subsequent direct registration with HCPC.

There are three main routes to achieve BMS registration:

  1. Graduates with an honours degree in biomedical science from one of the UK education centres accredited by the IBMS can gain employment with the NHS as a trainee biomedical scientist. Whilst 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.

  2. Some universities offer IBMS accredited co-terminus (integrated) degrees, which may also be approved by the IBMS. These are to enable the student to obtain the degree, but also meet the requirements for registration as part of the course. These courses contain clinical laboratory placements as an integral component part. This means that successful completion of an integrated degree leads directly to eligibility to apply for registration with the HCPC. The term co-terminus is used to denote a degree programme which includes the award of the Institute's Certificate of Competence as evidence that the HCPC standards of proficiency have been achieved.

  3. 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.

 

The minimum academic entry requirements for degree courses in biomedical science are usually:
Three GCE A-levels grades A-E (or equivalent) usually to include chemistry and biology, these should be backed up with at least three GCSEs, preferably to include science, English, mathematics.
(AS-levels can be accepted as equivalent to half an A-level and Scottish ''Highers'' may also be accepted as equivalent to GCE A Levels).
Alternative qualifications may be accepted including: 

  • Specified BTEC National Certificate/ Diploma: normally with merits/distinctions in science subjects.
  • Scottish Certificate of Education: three Cs at higher grade, including biology and chemistry.
  • Irish Leaving Certificate: five Cs at higher level, including biology and chemistry.
  • Advanced GNVQ (Level 3) including biology and chemistry.
  • Overseas equivalents
It is essential to contact universities directly to clarify what they will accept for entry onto their programmes. 
A list of the universities running courses accredited by the IBMS leading to registration with the HCPC can be found on the IBMS website.

 

Biomedical scientists carry out a range of laboratory tests to assist doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The work is highly varied and both practical and analytical and the majority of biomedical scientists specialise in:

 

Medical microbiology

Disease causing micro-organisms are isolated for identification and for susceptible to antibiotic therapy. Diseases diagnosed in this way include meningitis, food poisoning, and legionnaires disease.  

 

Clinical chemistry

Scientists analyse blood and other biological materials to assist the diagnosis of, for example, diabetes. They carry out toxicological studies, test kidney and liver functions and to help monitor therapies. 

 

Transfusion science

Biomedical scientists support hospital blood banks and the blood transfusion service. They prepare blood transfusions and plasma fractions to administer to patients and are responsible for ensuring that the blood groups of both donors and patients are compatible. 

 

Haematology

Involves the study of the morphology and physiology of blood to identify abnormalities within the different types of blood cells. Such tests are necessary to diagnosis different types of anaemia and leukaemia. 

 

Virology

Specialists test for infections such as rubella, herpes simplex, hepatitis and HIV and also screen selected populations at risk from virus disease. Rapid diagnosis is particularly important in this discipline in order to prevent the inappropriate use of antibiotics. 

 

Immunology

Deals with the conditions of the body's immune system and its role in infectious diseases, parasitic infestations, allergies, tumour growth, tissue grafts and organ transplants. This discipline is particularly important in the monitoring and treatment of AIDS.

 

Without biomedical scientists, hospital departments such as accident & emergency and operating theatres could not function. The roles of biomedical scientists in an area such as surgery includes tests for emergency blood transfusions and blood grouping as well as tests on samples from patients who may have overdosed, or may have leukaemia or are suspected of having a heart attack.   Cancer, diabetes, toxicological study, blood transfusion, anaemia, meningitis, hepatitis and AIDS are just some of the medical conditions that are investigated by biomedical scientists. They also perform a key role to identify viruses and diseases and monitor the effects of medication and other treatments. 
Scientists learn to work with computers, sophisticated automated equipment, microscopes and other hi-tech laboratory equipment. They employ a wide range of complex modern techniques.  The successful performance of this key role in modern healthcare relies on the accuracy and efficiency of work by biomedical scientists because patients lives and the treatment of illness depend on their skill and knowledge.

More information on these requirements, the official bodies and the pathways on the career can be found by following the links in the left hand box on this website.  For Biomedical Science careers, you are advised also to consult the IBMS directly for further information. 

Institute of Biomedical Science, 12 Coldbath Square , London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214   Fax: 020 7436 4946
Email: mail@ibms.org & Website: www.ibms.org 

(This page is maintained by the ACB Education Committee)

Updated 28th February 2012

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