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Science » Careers » Careers in biomedical science

Careers in biomedical science

Biomedical scientists work in healthcare to diagnose disease and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment through the analysis of fluids and tissue samples from patients. They provide the 'engine room' of modern medicine with 70% of diagnoses based on the pathology results provided by laboratory services. With biomedical scientists handling an estimated 150 million samples in the UK, every person at some point in their lives will have benefited from their services.

We have put together this careers information to help you to decide whether a career in biomedical science would be a suitable option for you. What makes biomedical science such a fascinating and rewarding career? A look down a microscope offers lots of reasons: a whole new world opens up, where the chaotic architecture of tumours is revealed, the teeming bacteria that cause infections are visible, as are the millions of cells that carry oxygen in our blood and form the frontline of our immune system. Or using your knowledge of chemistry and biology to look for or measure the amount of molecules and hormones in blood and other body fluids to diagnose disease or ensure treatment is working.

Or it could be the personal satisfaction of using your scientific skills and expertise to help provide a diagnosis and help your medical colleagues save the life of a sick patient? Or that it offers a diverse, interesting and rewarding career with a range of opportunities for personal and career development.

Or is it the constantly changing nature of science and healthcare that ensures that biomedical science offers career-long learning and challenges? Modern biomedical science is a fast-changing, dynamic complex science requiring accuracy, efficiency and attention to detail.

Career opportunities

Since biomedical science is a continually changing and dynamic profession it offers a fantastic variety of exciting career opportunities with excellent promotion prospects including specialist laboratory work, expert and consultant roles, research, education and management.

Once qualified, many biomedical scientists work in laboratories for the NHS and private sector. Modern laboratories are the hi-tech hubs of hospitals at the cutting edge of medical technology.

But if working in a general hospital laboratory isn’t for you, there are many other avenues to explore, such as the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The HPA seeks to improve health through the diagnosis, prevention and control of infections and communicable diseases and its scientists will test samples of drinking water, milk and foodstuffs to make sure they are fit for human consumption.

You may decide you’d prefer to work in forensic science, using the latest DNA profiling and forensic techniques to help identify and catch a wanted suspect!

You may work for the National Blood Authority, which provides support to hospital blood banks and the Blood Transfusion Service. Or working for the Medical Research Council, you’d carry out research in the medical and biological sciences to help preserve health and combat and control disease.

Biomedical scientists are also employed in other roles such as the veterinary service, the Health and Safety Executive, university laboratories, pharmaceutical and product manufacturers, Her Majesty’s Forces and various government departments.

As healthcare moves from the traditional hospital environment into the community, pathology is moving too. Biomedical scientists are now increasingly found in the primary care setting working with general practitioners in surgeries and community clinics and helping to deliver a diagnostic service to patients.

If travelling is your thing, there is the opportunity for you to use your training and skills in healthcare posts and projects around the world. The skills of a biomedical scientist are highly sought after for international healthcare projects in hospitals, schools and universities. You may want to become involved in voluntary work in developing countries on behalf of international bodies such as the World Health Organization or the Voluntary Service Overseas.

Like any profession you can get involved in professional activities where you can develop skills in media, politics, organising events and discussion groups, networking and professional representation and roles.

How do I become a biomedical scientist?

Modern pathology and biomedical laboratory work involves complex and diverse investigations requiring an in-depth scientific knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology. So, like for many other professions, a biomedical scientist will need to complete a BSc honours degree course, usually accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science.

To be accepted onto a degree course you will probably be studying biology and chemistry at ‘A’ Level and already have GCSE mathematics or equivalent.

IBMS-accredited undergraduate biomedical science degrees are designed to give you tailored scientific knowledge and training to enter the profession. Most honours degree courses are full-time, often with an integrated placement in the laboratory. Part-time options are also available which allow you to combine your studies with some practical experience, for example as a trainee in a hospital laboratory.

There is a non-standard route for other science graduates with science degrees containing the principle subjects of anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology and medical microbiology. Graduates with these degrees can enter the profession but may need to supplement their degrees with additional modules that are an integral part of accredited biomedical science degree courses.

You can get advice on course selection by contacting the IBMS. We will provide you with a list of approved biomedical science courses, which we update annually.

What happens next?

Biomedical scientist is a legally protected title so you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the profession’s regulator.

Registration requires completion of an academic programme plus a period of training in an Institute approved laboratory to develop your practical skills and ensure your competence for patient safety. This may occur as part of an integrated degree or may be completed post-graduation. The trainee's progress and competence is recorded in a registration portfolio, which is assessed on completion of training. Trainees whose portfolios meet the HCPC's standards are issued with a certificate of competence by the Institute for presenting to the HCPC for registration.

Students undertaking Institute accredited integrated BSc (Hons) degrees (also called coterminus degrees) will have this period of training built into the degree and will be eligible for immediate registration at the same time as graduation.

Specialising in biomedical science

After registration you continue your professional development with specialist training, usually in a single discipline.

Medical Microbiology
As a biomedical scientist in microbiology you will study micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and parasites which cause disease. You will identify these organisms and establish the antibiotic treatment required to kill them therefore stopping the disease. Diseases diagnosed include meningitis, tuberculosis and food poisoning.

Clinical Chemistry
In clinical chemistry biomedical scientists analyse blood and other biological materials to help the diagnosis of diseases, for example diabetes. They also carry out toxicological studies, test kidney and liver functions and help to monitor therapies.

Transfusion Science
In this discipline you will identify blood groups for blood donation, ensure the correct grouped blood is matched to the patient due to receive donation and make certain there is enough blood available in case of emergency such as road traffic accidents, operations and cancer treatments.

Haematology
Haematology is the study of blood. In this discipline you will be involved with the formation, composition, functions and diseases of the blood. Some of the diseases diagnosed in haematology are leukaemia, malaria and anaemia.

Histology
In histology, tissue samples are studied microscopically to establish the cause of illness. Tissue may be taken during surgery or at post mortem. Diseases such as cancer are diagnosed by looking for abnormal features in tissue cells.

Cytology
This discipline is best known for its work in screening cervical smears, but it also provides a non-gynaecological service. Like histology, specialised techniques are used to prepare and study samples of cellular materials.

Virology
Virology is the study of viruses and the disease caused by them such as German measles, HIV and chickenpox. You will also be involved in monitoring the effects of vaccines.

Immunology
Biomedical scientists in immunology deal with the conditions of the body’s immune system and its role in infectious diseases, parasitic infestations, allergies, tumour growth, tissue grafts and organ transplants. Their work is particularly important in the monitoring and treatment of AIDS.

However, biomedical science itself is an evolving science moving into new areas such as cytogenetics and molecular biology.

Biomedical scientists can complete the Institute’s specialist portfolio which recognises your training, skills and knowledge gained in the two years post-registration. Completion of the portfolio and successful assessment will lead to you being awarded a Specialist Diploma in the disciplines listed above.

Advanced careers

Biomedical scientists go onto build on their generic knowledge with masters degrees, professional qualifications and professional doctorates.These optional qualifications help you to develop advanced specialist skills or adopt senior roles and responsibilities. Consultant biomedical scientists are those with highest qualifications and expertise who have reached the top of their profession.

Biomedical scientists can also become 'Chartered Scientist' which is an internationally recognised benchmark of quality and excellence.

Life as a biomedical scientist

In our opinion, biomedical science is a dynamic, varied, exciting and rewarding career with excellent prospects and promotion opportunities. But don’t take our word for it; this is what a few of our members have to say about life as a biomedical scientist.

Ash, 27, specialised in haematology and works in Bradford.
"I really enjoyed science when I was at school and I always knew that I wanted to work in a hospital but I didn’t want to do medicine. I ended up doing my work experience in a haematology lab and I was hooked! I did an honours degree in biomedical science and then specialised in haematology. The work is very demanding but I really get a kick out of it. It’s a strange feeling because I’m usually dealing with sick people and although I’m not directly involved with getting them better, the quicker I can diagnose a patient the quicker they can be treated. So I suppose I am doing my bit really."

Jane, 22, third year student on a sandwich course in Brighton.
"When I finished my 'A’ levels, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do so I took a year off and travelled round the world. The idea of working in a hospital laboratory really appealed so when I came back I went to my local careers advisor and he suggested I did a biomedical science course. I applied to the University of Brighton and they accepted me. It’s been lots of hard work but I’ve had a great time and met lots of great people on my course. At the moment, I’m in the middle of my placement year. Having the opportunity to work in a lab makes everything I’ve studied real. I’m having the time of my life and at the end of it I’m almost certainly guaranteed a job with prospects. What could be better?!"

Malcolm, 34, working in microbiology in a busy Newcastle hospital.
"I have worked in microbiology for about 10 years now. I started as a trainee and after registration began my MSc part time. It was funded by my department and meant I could earn and learn at the same time. A few years ago I applied for a higher position and now I am involved in training new biomedical scientists and have more responsibility within the laboratory. I take part in the Institute’s CPD scheme and I get to go to conferences and meetings. It’s a great way to keep up to date and to catch up with some of my old colleagues for a drink and a chat.

Joanne, 29, a biomedical scientist in London
“I completed a BSc in biomedical science at De Montfort University in Leicester and an MSc in clinical chemistry at the University of Westminster before joining a general lab at UCLH analysing blood, urine and tissue samples.  Much of the work involved looking at renal samples for dialysis patients, working in the rapid response lab for the accident and emergency department testing bone and liver function for patients with jaundice.

I started to specialise in paediatric metabolic biochemistry. In the paediatric lab, we are the main screening lab for enzyme and protein deficiencies for the whole of South East England, screening around 50,000 babies every year.  We are also a diagnostic service for rare metabolic disorders that may affect only one in 10,000 babies. My post here is unique and I am in the great position of being able to mould it myself.  Later on, I may wish to go down the lab manager or consultancy route or – if I decide to concentrate on medical breakthroughs – into a research role. 

Nothing stands still in biomedical science; the fact that the profession is changing all the time as new discoveries are made makes it an excellent career choice for today’s ambitious graduate. In terms of human qualities, an eye for detail is incredibly important, as are people skills.  Working well to deadlines, under great pressure sometimes, is important, as is being methodical and ensuring that samples are dealt with efficiently and not mixed up.

Finding a job

Jobs in biomedical science are often advertised in local and national newspapers or scientific journals. Alternatively, you could use the IBMS’s own magazine, The Biomedical Scientist, to find your perfect job. Published monthly, it provides details of vacancies for both qualified and trainee staff. You can purchase a copy directly from the IBMS. Members can check out our website for the latest job vacancies.

Videop and publications

What can you do with a science degree?

Cytologist Andrew Evered looks for abnormal cells in samples taken from patients

Interview with Sheelagh Heugh, Biomedical Scientist at London Metropolitan University

Interview with a medical microbiologist

Interview with a Consultant Biomedical Scientist in Haemostatis and Thrombosis

Angela a biomedical scientist talks about working in the NHS

Download Careers brochure here (PDF)

Haematology Lab
Haematology Lab

Scientist working with Petri Dishes
Scientist working with Petri Dishes

Pathology
Pathology

Advice is available on course selection by contacting the IBMS. The Institute will provide you with a list of approved biomedical science courses, which are updated annually
Advice is available on course selection by contacting the IBMS. The Institute will provide you with a list of approved biomedical science courses, which are updated annually