Clinical scientist (physical sciences)

Clinical scientists working in the physical sciences help prevent, diagnose and treat 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, clinical scientists may be responsible for:

  • radiation safety
  • the planning and performance of cancer treatments using radiation
  • other types of imaging, such as ultrasound
  • nuclear medicine systems
  • magnetic resonance imaging machines

Clinical engineering

In clinical engineering, clinical scientists can be involved in:

  • patient-connected medical device services
  • designing mechanical and electronic equipment for patients
  • designing equipment for members of the clinical team

Many clinical engineers also:

  • perform complex data analysis
  • write code
  • use software to analyse tests and results

Clinical scientists have a fundamental role in innovation and research.

Starting you career

Subject choices

Useful subjects for clinical scientists working in the physical sciences include:

  • Maths
  • English
  • Physics
  • Engineering Science
  • Science
  • Design and Technology
  • Computing Science
  • Human Biology

Work placements 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 in healthcare. Find out more about Foundation Apprenticeships in:

Modern Apprenticeships

Begin or continue your career journey to becoming a clinical scientist in physical sciences with a Modern Apprenticeship. Useful Modern Apprenticeships for this role include:

College and university

To become a clinical scientist in the physical sciences, you’ll need a degree in a subject like:

  • Physics
  • Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications you could 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.

Search for college or university courses on My World of Work.

Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme

Once you’ve completed your degree, you can apply to the Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme. You need a minimum of a 2:1 (or a 2:2 and a master’s degree) to qualify for the scheme.

You’ll complete 3 years of training on the scheme. In your first year, you’ll complete a relevant MSc from a Scottish university. In the second year, you’ll rotate around different specialisms in either medical physics or clinical engineering. In year 3, you’ll pick 1 specialism to focus on for the year.

The training scheme is accredited by the Academy of Healthcare Science (AHCS) and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means that, on completion, you’ll be a fully registered clinical scientist in the physical sciences.

The role

Clinical scientists in the physical scientists could be designing, modifying or monitoring medical equipment to make sure it’s working well for both staff and patients.

What you’ll do

As a medical physicist or clinical engineer, you can 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

Top skills

Useful skills for clinical scientists include:

  • analysis
  • accuracy
  • attention to detail
  • communication
  • teamwork
  • empathy
  • self-motivated
  • problem-solving
  • concentration

You’ll also be expected to know how to use specialist equipment and software.

Who you’ll work with

Who you’ll work with depends on which specialty you choose. It’s likely that you’ll work in a multidisciplinary team, which could include:

  • clinical technologists
  • consultants
  • radiographers
  • physiotherapists

Working environment

As a medical physicist, you’ll likely work in a hospital setting.

Clinical engineers might meet patients in a clinic or in the patient's home. You’ll also be creating or modifying devices in a workshop environment.

Learning and development

As a qualified clinical scientist, you’re expected to undertake CPD (continuous professional development) activities 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 update your skills and knowledge.

During your career as a clinical scientist, you can also work towards 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 the chance to advance into more specialised areas of the physical sciences.

Professional bodies

As a medical physicist or clinical engineer, you must be registered with:

Once you’ve qualified, you can also join the: