Clinical scientist (physical sciences)

Clinical scientists working in the physical sciences are registered at postgraduate-level and play an important role in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases, illness and medical conditions.

Many clinical scientists work in medical physics and clinical engineering departments.

Medical physics

In medical physics, they may be responsible for radiation safety, the planning and performance of cancer treatments using radiation, other types of imaging such as with ultrasound, nuclear medicine systems or magnetic resonance imaging machines.

Clinical engineering

In clinical engineering, they may be involved in patient-connected medical device services, designing mechanical and electronic equipment for patients, or for use by other members of the clinical team.

Many perform complex data analysis, write code and use software to analyse tests and results. They work as part of a wider team that includes clinical technologists, and in some departments colleagues from the allied health professions when working directly with patients. Clinical scientists have a fundamental role in innovation and research.

As a clinical scientist, you could specialise in a range of areas such as:

  • medical physics – radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, radiation safety (health physics),  non-ionising radiation
  • clinical engineering – medical device management, electronic design, mechanical design, rehabilitation engineering, biomechanics, physiological measurement and instrumentation

Depending on your chosen specialist area, your work activities could include:

  • designing equipment, experiments, interpreting test results for medical colleagues to enable the clinical team to provide patients with devices, diagnostic information, therapy treatments and prognostic information
  • leading new research, contributing to the work of the wider clinical team and supporting other healthcare science staff

To work as a clinical scientist, useful skills will include:

  • strong analytical and experimental skills
  • technical and practical skills
  • a high level of accuracy and excellent attention to detail
  • strong communication skills
  • teamworking skills
  • committed to the wellbeing of patients
  • professional with an excellent work ethic
  • good problem-solving skills 

Useful abilities include:

  • the ability to work on your own initiative and take responsibility for making decisions
  • using specialist equipment, software and modern technology
  • empathy and understanding when working directly with patients
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods

To become a clinical scientist in the physical sciences in NHS Scotland, you must have a minimum of an undergraduate degree at least to 2:1 (or possess a 2:2 and a masters) in a cognate physics or engineering discipline.

You must then complete the 3-year training programme based in Scotland via a well-established national training scheme for clinical scientists entering medical physics and clinical engineering. Where necessary, the scheme places trainees on a 1-year MSc at either Strathclyde University, Glasgow University or Aberdeen University. Registered clinical scientists from other parts of the UK may have already completed the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).

NHS Education for Scotland commissions around 20 supernumerary clinical scientist trainees each year. The training leads to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The minimum academic entry requirements for undergraduate degree courses in physical sciences vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher AABB grades, including Physics and Mathematics. Some universities may also allow entry to year 2 with Advanced Highers in Physics and Maths.

Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) – Access to Science, Technology & Mathematics (STEM) Level 6

These programmes are for adults returning to education, perhaps changing career or seeking to gain the equivalent university entry qualifications needed for a life sciences undergraduate programme. There are no formal entry qualifications, but applicants should have a good standard of general education and have been away from formal education for a minimum of 2 – 3 years.

Successful completion of the course could lead to a degree in a physical science subject by applying to universities participating in the SWAP partnership programme.

Please visit the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) website for more information or you can view the following videos:

Once qualified and registered with Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), you also join the AHCS accredited register.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

As a qualified clinical scientist, you would be expected to undertake CPD activities in order to:

  • keep your knowledge and skills up to date
  • maintain your registration with the HCPC

The HCPC provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

During your career as a clinical scientist, you can gain additional qualifications, such as:

  • higher specialist development
  • PhD and professional doctorates

All these qualifications will help your career prospects, leading to more senior roles or providing the opportunity to specialise in areas of physical sciences.

Find out more information from these professional and regulatory bodies: 

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological, and in England; social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the HCPC website to find out more.

The Academy of Healthcare Science (AHCS)

The Academy for Healthcare Science is an umbrella organisation covering training and policy issues for a range of healthcare science professions, including clinical scientists. Find out more at:

The Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS)

The Association of Clinical Scientists  provide alternative training routes to registration and is used by some specialties for training. Visit the ACS website for more information.

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)

The IPEM is the professional organisation for physicists, clinical and biomedical engineers and technologists working in medicine and biology. Find out more on the IPEM website.