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How to become a biomedical scientist

To become a biomedical scientist in the NHS, you’ll need an undergraduate honours degree in Biomedical Science. The degree programme must be accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS).

What is a biomedical scientist?

Biomedical scientists normally work in laboratories, using computers and complex lab equipment to conduct a wide range of scientific tests. These tests help doctors and other healthcare professionals diagnose, monitor, and manage diseases. Biomedical scientists can also carry out tests for blood transfusion. 

Generally, biomedical scientists 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 as a biomedical scientist

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a college or university course that could lead to a career as a biomedical scientist, useful subjects include: 

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Statistics
  • English
  • Maths

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

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

  • HNC Applied Science at SCQF level 7
  • HND Applied Bioscience at SCQF level 8
  • HND Applied Biological Sciences at SCQF level 8

You can search for college courses on My World of Work.

Pre-registration Biomedical Science undergraduate degree programme

To work as a registered biomedical scientist in the NHS, you must complete an undergraduate honours degree in Biomedical Science at SCQF level 10. The degree programme must be accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) or the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

IBMS-accredited degree programme

If the IBMS-accredited degree programme is integrated with a laboratory placement, you'll complete your IBMS Registration Training portfolio during your placement year. You can then apply for registration with the HCPC. This means you’ll be a registered biomedical scientist when you graduate.

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 you graduate 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. 

What happens if your degree programme isn't accredited by the IBMS?

If you decide to take a scientific degree that isn’t accredited by the IBMS, you can apply for a role in an NHS laboratory as an associate practitioner in life sciences. 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'll need to take at an accredited university.

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

Widening access

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 Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need. 

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme

To work in any NHSScotland laboratory, you must apply to Disclosure Scotland to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.

Course search

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

Get to know the role

You'll work in laboratories conducting complex tests to investigate medical conditions such as:

  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • meningitis
  • hepatitis

To help diagnose patients, you'll use:

  • automated testing machines
  • microscopes
  • computers

You'll also 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.

Tasks include: 

  • analysis lots of patient biological samples for diseases or abnormalities
  • monitor organ function
  • use specialist procedures, such as cell culture or genomic testing for cancer screenings
  • produce reports and updating computer systems with results
  • provide test results to clinicians and other medical staff
  • monitor the effectiveness of treatment and medicines
  • maintain and run automated or specialised testing equipment
  • contribute to laboratory quality management systems and adhere to safe laboratory practice

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

You'll need these skills:

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

Biomedical scientists work with other healthcare professionals, including: 

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

You'll mostly be working in a hospital laboratory.

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.

Career progression

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:

  • Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS)
  • Science Council
  • British Blood Transfusion Society (BBTS)

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