A clinical scientist conducts detailed research into different branches of science and medical disciplines. They have also been known to collaborate with medical professionals and provide support to patients.
Clinical scientists, sometimes known as a healthcare scientist, are essential to the prevention and diagnosis of illnesses and diseases. Generally, a clinical scientist will work in four specific science areas: clinical bioinformatics, life sciences, physical sciences and clinical engineering, and physiological sciences.
What is a clinical scientist?
A clinical scientist works across a wide range of medical and scientific disciplines. The role of a clinical scientist will depend on the area of science or medical care they are working in. For instance, a clinical scientist's biochemistry work differs from audiology's.
Clinical scientists generally have hybrid roles incorporating extensive research and hands-on medical work. This usually involves researching and developing new techniques, methods, or equipment to treat illnesses or diseases.
This is crucial work. The findings of this research can lead to several breakthroughs in different areas and can prove invaluable for future doctors and nurses.
Your responsibilities of a clinical scientist will vary depending on where you work. Since a clinical scientist can cover a wide range of topics and disciplines, all of which have different research methods, your responsibilities may be much more wide-ranging than other careers.
A clinical scientist salary will be impacted on where you work.
The most common responsibilities for a clinical scientist are:
- Audit tests being run.
- Carry out analysis of blood tissue and bodily fluids.
- Create detailed reports of your findings.
- Ensure that equipment is running smoothly.
- Liaise with other scientific and healthcare professionals.
- Liaise with patients and talk them through treatment options.
- Make recommendations to lead scientists and managers.
- Resolve issues with testing and equipment performance.
- Run unique tests.
- Support healthcare professionals.
You will be handed more responsibility as you grow in your role. As you take on more senior management roles, you will be tasked with managing teams and budgets and liaising with various other scientists or those in other clinical sciences jobs.
A clinical scientist salary will be impacted on where you work. For example, those working in the NHS have their pay covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates, in which they will fall into Band 6 (as do most clinical scientist trainee jobs), which starts at £32,000.
From there, you will move through the representative bands into other clinical jobs. At Band 7, you will earn between £40,000 and £45,000, and Band 8 and 9 can see you earn between £47,000 and £110,000. Movement through bands will depend on your experience and title.
It is possible to work outside of the NHS. These pay rates are less structured and will largely depend on what area of clinical science you are working in.
You will need a degree to become a clinical scientist. It is common for students to have studied via the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) or to have studied a specific medical or science-based course at an undergraduate or postgraduate course.
Training and development are hugely important in this role.
The best subjects to study at university are:
- Audiology degrees
- Biochemistry degrees
- Biology degrees
- Biomedical sciences degrees
- Clinical biochemistry degrees (postgraduate only)
- Clinical science degrees
- Genetics degrees
- Microbiology degrees
- Physics degrees
- Physiological sciences degrees
Though an undergraduate degree is generally sufficient for this role, a postgraduate degree (particularly one with an emphasis on research) is also helpful. Applications for the STP and other medical courses must go through Oriel, an online medical application portal.
Oriel has a slightly different way of running things compared to UCAS. Oriel has its own recruitment process, a situational judgement test (JST), and a series of interviews for you to sit in beforehand.
Once you’ve sat your STP, you will be granted a Certificate of Completion for the Scientist Training Programme (CCSTP). This qualification is hugely important for all medical roles, especially for a clinical scientist.
After receiving the CCSTP, you can register as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Training and development
Training and development are hugely important in this role. If you are working for the NHS, your training will be handled in-house, whereas larger companies or private clinics may send you out on training with third parties.
Though training and development are handled by your company, it is also your responsibility to flag relevant courses. If you feel that there is a course you would benefit from, you should tell your employer and ask to attend.
Training and development are one of the most crucial reasons for joining relevant industry bodies. Organisations such as the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB), the Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) and the Fellowship of The Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) have several training and development courses, as well as networking events, seminars and introductory courses for a trainee clinical scientist.
Work experience is useful for this role but not essential.
As this is a regulated industry, you must complete continuing professional development (CPD). Your CPD will focus on work-based learning activities, attending conferences, having work, research or reports published and applying for research grants.
The organisations or NHS trusts you are registered with will be able to help you with your CPD. These organisations will offer lectures and seminars, one-on-one stewardship programmes, networking events and various training programmes.
A clinical scientist needs a wide range of skills to be successful. These skills will be further improved through advanced training, development, and experience.
The most common skills needed for a clinical scientist are:
- An ability to work on your own and with others.
- An ability to work under pressure.
- An analytical approach.
- Excellent IT skills.
- Excellent laboratory skills.
- Excellent problem-solving skills.
- Excellent research skills.
- Good communication skills.
- Meticulous approach to research and file preservation.
As you move into senior roles, you will also need other skills. These can include managing teams of scientists, the budgets they have to work with, and the ability to present to industry officials.
Work experience is useful for this role but not essential. Those applying for the STP will generally be asked to have some form of work experience beforehand, purely to separate themselves from the competition.
It may be difficult, at least initially, to find work experience, however, some organisations will have internships and placements advertised. Institutions such as the ACB, HSST and the FRCPath will have many opportunities for you to choose from and will also have paid and unpaid placements for those who need to gain some experience.
Sometimes, a placement can be found when studying a postgraduate course. Many postgraduate degrees ask for students to find themselves a placement to go along with their studies. Many universities you apply to will have industry contacts and therefore be able to help you find a placement.
The career path you have will depend on the company you work for. Those working for the NHS will generally have a more structured career path, as the NHS has a structure relating to salaries.
A clinical scientist works across a wide range of medical and scientific disciplines.
Generally, promotion is easier if you focus on a specific area of specialisation. For instance, those who focus more on endocrinology, toxicology or more specialised and niche science-based subjects will find it possible to move into senior research and development roles.
After a while, you can apply for management and supervisory roles. These roles will allow you to manage and train scientists' teams and handle the department's budgets.
Outside of this, there are still other opportunities. Many clinical scientists move into advisory or self-employed clinical science jobs undertaken through grants provided by the government. Education is another option for those who wish to pass on their knowledge. It is also possible to move into other healthcare scientist jobs, such as becoming a medical biochemist, critical care scientist or clinical pharmaceutical scientist.