Biomedical scientist

Biomedical scientists normally work in laboratories, using computers and complex lab equipment. They conduct a wide range of scientific tests to help doctors and other healthcare professionals diagnose, monitor and manage diseases. Biomedical scientists can also undertake tests for blood transfusion. Generally, they specialise in one of four areas:

  • Infection sciences, including medical microbiology and virology
  • Blood sciences, such as clinical chemistry, transfusion science, haematology and immunology
  • Cell sciences, for example histopathology and cytology
  • Gene sciences like genetics and molecular pathology

Operating theatres and accident and emergency wouldn’t be able to function without biomedical scientists. Their work is vital to the detection and investigation of medical conditions.

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

If you’d like to become a biomedical scientist, useful school subjects include:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Human Biology
  • Statistics

Work placement and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.

Apprenticeships

Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship could give you the skills, knowledge and work experience to start your career journey as a biomedical scientist. Explore the relevant Foundation Apprenticeships in:

College and university

At college, you could do an HNC or HND to set you on the right path. These include:

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

To work as a registered biomedical scientist in the NHS, you must complete a Biomedical Science degree accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) or Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). If the IBMS accredited degree programme is integrated with a laboratory placement then you will complete your IBMS Registration Training portfolio during your placement year and you can apply to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means you’ll be a registered biomedical scientist on graduation.

Some scientific degree programmes are accredited by the IBMS but don’t have a laboratory placement. In that case, you’ll need to complete an IBMS Registration Portfolio in an approved laboratory after graduation to become a biomedical scientist.

The IBMS Registration Training Portfolio Certificate of Competence is a work-based professional qualification. It must be carried out in an approved clinical laboratory. The qualification demonstrates evidence of your competence to meet the HCPC Standards of Proficiency. 

If you decide to take a scientific degree that isn’t accredited by the IBMS, you can apply for a role as an Associate Practitioner. Once you’re in this role, you can have your degree transcripts assessed by the Institute of Biomedical Science to find out which supplementary modules you need to take at an accredited university.

Once you’ve completed these courses, you can then apply for a trainee biomedical scientist role and complete your registration portfolio.

To practice in any NHSScotland laboratory, you will also need to apply to Disclosure Scotland to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.

View a list of IBMS accredited courses.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work.

The role

As an NHSScotland biomedical scientist, you'll work in laboratories conducting complex tests to investigate medical conditions such as:

  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • meningitis
  • hepatitis
  • HIV/AIDS

To help diagnose patients, you'll use:

  • automated testing machines
  • microscopes
  • computers

You'll investigate samples taken during health tests, surgery and blood donation services. You must carefully record your experiment results while assisting doctors and healthcare science staff.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks can include:

  • analysing lots of patient biological samples for diseases or abnormalities
  • monitoring organ function
  • using specialist procedures, such as cell culture or genomic testing for cancer screenings
  • producing reports and updating computer systems with results
  • providing test results to clinicians and other medical staff
  • monitoring the effectiveness of treatment and medicines
  • maintaining and running automated or specialised testing equipment
  • contributing to laboratory quality management systems and adhering to safe laboratory practice

You may be involved in carrying out new research or providing support to other healthcare science staff.

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring
  • collaboration
  • decision-making
  • leadership
  • problem-solving
  • teamwork

Good technical and practical skills are also necessary.

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • specialist nurses
  • clinicians
  • healthcare science associate practitioners
  • healthcare science support workers
  • clinical scientists
  • ward staff
  • other healthcare scientists

Working environment

As a biomedical scientist, you'll mostly be working in a laboratory setting.

Did you know?

In the UK, healthcare laboratories are involved in over 70% of diagnoses in the NHS and handle over 150 million samples each year.

Learning and development

As a biomedical scientist, you’re expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This will keep your knowledge and skills up to date. You must also do this work to maintain your registration with the HCPC.

After registering with the HCPC, you can continue your professional development by taking the IBMS Specialist Diploma. The Diploma is offered in a range of disciplines:

  • cellular pathology
  • medical microbiology
  • clinical biochemistry
  • haematology and transfusion science
  • transfusion science
  • blood science

You’ll need to provide evidence of training, specialist knowledge and practical skills via a portfolio.

With the right combination of experience and advanced knowledge, you may be able to become a registered scientist (RSci) or chartered scientist (CSsi). Advanced Biomedical Scientists can also apply to the HCPC as a clinical scientist. The IBMS provide a route following the award of the IBMS Certificate of Attainment. (Experimental Route).

As your career progresses, there are opportunities to take IBMS higher and expert qualifications. These will help you move into management and advanced practice, where you might lead your own team or control a budget. You could also become a consultant biomedical scientist.

With the right experience and knowledge, you may focus on more specialist areas such as:

  • clinical chemistry
  • haematology
  • histology
  • medical microbiology
  • immunology
  • leadership and management
  • virology
  • transfusion science
  • training
  • quality

Later, you could take advanced IBMS qualifications suitable for advancing practitioner roles. These qualifications demonstrate a high level of expert knowledge and skills within a discipline and could provide a link to professional doctorate programmes.

The Advanced Specialist Diploma is aimed at senior members of the profession who can take on roles supporting medical consultants. The diploma is available in specialties including:

  • Cervical Cytology
  • Histopathology Reporting
  • Non-Gynaecological Cytology
  • Ophthalmic Pathology
  • Specimen Dissection

If you decide to take a MSc or PhD in Biomedical Science or another relevant subject, you could move into teaching.

Some biomedical scientists also undertake clinical academic research.

Professional bodies

To work as a biomedical scientist in NHSScotland, you must maintain your registration every 2 years with Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

You can also register to join professional bodies, such as: