- Types of clinical scientist
- What do clinical scientists do?
- Clinical scientist career path
- Clinical scientist salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Clinical scientist skills
- Pros and cons of being a clinical scientist
- Work-life balance of a clinical scientist
- Typical employers hiring clinical scientists
- Related jobs to clinical scientist
Do you enjoy helping people? Do you have an analytical mind and a passion for uncovering the root causes behind some of the world's most prevalent illnesses and disorders? If so, a career as a clinical scientist could be the path you’re looking for.
Do you think you’d be perfect for a career as a clinical scientist? Explore the Science and Research graduate jobs available right now.
Types of clinical scientist
Clinical scientists or healthcare scientists conduct research to develop techniques and equipment for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness. Medical science is a broad spectrum of careers and the following are areas that clinical scientists tend to specialise in:
- Audiology. These scientists help people who have problems with hearing, balance and tinnitus.
- Biochemistry. As a clinical scientist working in this area, you’ll test and analyse bodily fluid to research how we can prevent and manage disease.
- Genomics. Scientists in this area are concerned with analysing gene patterns and alterations to determine whether future generations are at risk of illness.
- Embryology. Clinicians in this area work on reproductive research and face to face with patients on fertility treatments such as IVF and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
- Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics. These clinicians are specialists in ‘tissue typing’ which is vital for organ and stem cell transplantation. They ensure patients are matched with the best possible donors.
- Immunology. These scientists conduct research into the diagnosis and management of immune system disorders.
What does a clinical scientist do?
Clinical scientists research and improve ways to treat and prevent a huge variety of disorders that afflict people all around the world. Unlike other scientist roles, there is often a more practical element within the clinical sector as you may be required to consult with or treat patients directly. Despite your specialism, there are certain tasks and responsibilities that all clinical scientists are required to undertake. Here are some examples of what working as a clinical scientist day to day may look like:
- Researching, developing and testing new ways of diagnosing and treating illness. This may look like running tests, writing up findings and submitting applications to funding bodies
- Keeping up to date records of your process and your results.
- Consulting for and advising medical staff on how to use technical equipment or administer medicines
- Analysing test samples and providing patients with test results and consultation
- Presenting results to hospitals and organisations who want to use your data to improve healthcare, or giving evidence in court when determining cause of death (pathology)
- Writing up case studies or original papers for publication in scientific journals
Clinical scientist career path
As a clinical scientist, you might work in a hospital (either NHS or private) or in a lab or higher education institution. This depends on what your specialism is. Within the NHS, there is a clear path of progression you can follow based on grades that you achieve through training and developing new skills. Promotions often mean moving to other hospitals or institutions to take advantage of any job openings there. If you start out working in a lab, you can learn the ropes conducting scientific research under more senior scientists and then progress to managing your own team.
Some clinicians may choose to study for a PhD and in this case you will have a supervisor who can support you through your studies. As well as support from your higher education institution, research clinical scientists can receive additional training and guidance from organisations like Vitae which are there to support the professional development of clinical scientists in the early stages of their career.
Usually as you gain experience and knowledge you may specialise further into a more niche area of your medical department. For example clinical scientists specialising in audiology may go on to become specialists in tinnitus or cochlear implants. You’ll be likely to take on a supervisory role as your career develops and become more responsible for the work your department produces.
Many clinical scientists move up to become consultants through the Higher Specialist Scientist Training Programme. And at the peak of their careers, clinical scientists also go on to become heads of department or go into education with placements as professors at higher education institutes.
Throughout your career, it can be useful to seek support from different professional bodies which provide support for clinical scientists looking to progress. Bodies such as the Medical Research Council and RSB can provide additional qualifications for clinical scientists looking to progress their careers.
Clinical scientist salaries
- For clinical scientists working within the NHS, salaries are divided up between 9 pay brackets. Trainee clinicians can expect to enter work in Band 6, starting at £31,365 per year
- Once qualified, this rises to Band 7 which is usually around £38,890 to £44,503 per year
- Consultants and senior clinicians salaries range from Band 8 which is £45,753 per year and Band 9 which is £104,927 per year
Qualifications and training
Reaching the right level of qualifications and having great experience helps you secure a job in the clinical scientist career path you want. Here is an idea of the education and training that you need to succeed:
Clinical scientists are expected to have an undergraduate degree or an integrated Master’s degree in a subject relevant to medicinal science, such as biology, biochemistry, biomedical science or genetics. This makes you eligible for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) which is a full time 3 year work scheme that also includes study at Master’s level. Some other degree subjects are accepted but it is preferred if your studies have been in this area of science. If you don’t have a degree, don’t worry. You can also apply for the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) as a way to kickstart your career in clinical science.
Places on the STP can be competitive, so it’s a good idea to set yourself apart from the crowd by getting some hands-on experience working in a clinical environment before applying. You could contact your local hospital and ask to shadow a clinical scientist working in a department you’re interested in. Similarly, if you’re interested in biochemistry or other lab based research positions, you could secure some short-term lab work experience.
It may also be helpful to look at internships for companies that work in the area you’re interested in. Many top firms offer internships during the summer aimed at university students. Take a look at the current internships in Science and Research.
Clinical scientist skills
Education is an important building block on the road to securing your career as a clinical scientist, but it is also important to consider the skill set required for the job. Here are some of the hard and soft skills that you need to flourish in your career as a clinical scientist:
- Lab skills. Regardless of the area you specialise in as a clinical scientist, you are likely to need technical skills for the safe and efficient running of a lab. This is because testing and analysis underpin all careers as a clinical scientist. It is essential you have at least some experience working in a lab and conducting scientific experiments.
- Specialist skills. Some areas of clinical science will require specialised skills which are unique to the tools you’re working with. An example of this is in audiology. Manual dexterity is required for successfully handling and fitting small equipment such as ear implants.
- Research and problem solving. To become a scientist, you will need to carefully analyse and process large amounts of data as well as thinking through challenging issues.
- Verbal communication and interpersonal skills. These skills are essential as clinical scientists take on a very practical role when dealing with patients. They will often advise and support patients who are vulnerable and seeking help.
- Decision making. Clinical scientists may sometimes need to weigh up the options and make a decision about what course of treatment a patient should take. This requires good evaluation skills as well as having courage in your convictions.
- Management and organisation. As your career progresses you may well be in charge of a team of researchers or clinicians who need you to guide them through their responsibilities
- Teamwork. When working in a hospital a variety of different departments and specialisms will come together to work on a project.
Pros and cons of being a clinical scientist
A career as a clinical scientist can be incredibly rewarding. However, it is hard work and not suited to everyone. Here are some pros and cons to help you consider whether working as a clinical scientist is right for you:
- Working alongside patients who need help can be very rewarding when you are able to help them improve the quality of their life. Being a clinical scientist can also be rewarding as you’re part of something bigger, pushing the frontiers of knowledge, and often working to make positive change in the world.
- Problem solving and working as a team can often be exciting and challenging work, with huge job satisfaction if you make a breakthrough.
- There is room for specialisation as a clinical scientist and becoming a world leading expert in your area of expertise. This can lead to publishing your own work, giving speeches and teaching others, and travelling to other parts of the world for conferences.
- Specialising and becoming a consultant can offer very high rates of pay as you excel in your career.
- Becoming a clinical scientist means being part of a worldwide community of like minded people. You can connect with people all over the world who share your passions.
- The balance of working with patients to improve their lives is that inevitably sometimes you have to deal with scenarios where their condition isn’t improved or cured. This can be upsetting and tough to deal with.
- The working hours can be very long. Sometimes long days and working on weekends is required to meet deadlines.
- Working in a hospital can be a high intensity and high stress environment which may not ideally suit everyone.
- The nature of scientific testing can be competitive between different departments and projects when trying to secure funding. It can also be very frustrating when a lengthy project comes to an end and you discover the results are unusable or not what was expected.
Work-life balance of a clinical scientist
If you are working in a hospital, your hours will depend on the shift pattern and requirements of the rota. This means you may well be required to work into the evenings or on weekends. Laboratory work can be more stable. Similarly if deadlines are coming up, the hours can be longer than the standard 9am to 5pm. However, clinical scientists often have the opportunity to attend conferences which could provide an exciting opportunity to travel and see different parts of the world.
Typical employers hiring clinical scientists
Although most careers in clinical science are through the NHS, there are private organisations and specialist organisations dedicated to healthcare. Below is an idea of the types of companies who might have positions or work experience for people interested in a career in clinical science: