Higher Specialist Diploma

Advance your career and upgrade your IBMS membership 

The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma is for biomedical scientists with five years post registration experience, who are looking to progress to a more advanced role. It will enable you to demonstrate high levels of knowledge, skill and competence within your chosen discipline.

Assessed through a portfolio of experiential learning and four written examinations, it is a professional vocational qualification. To be awarded the Higher Specialist Diploma you must demonstrate that you have a high level of expert knowledge, skills and competence required to work at a senior level within your discipline. 

On achieving an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma you will be eligible to upgrade to a Fellow of the IBMS.

Further information 

Who can apply for the Higher Specialist Diploma

Applicants must be a Member or Fellow of the IBMS and HCPC registered. 

you must also:

  • have developed skills and theoretical knowledge to a very high standard and 
  • be performing an in-depth highly complex role, and are continuously developing clinical, scientific or technical practice within a defined field


  • have management responsibilities for a section/small department or
  • be largely involved in research and development

It is also recommended that you have five years post registration experience before undertaking an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma.

Higher Specialist Diploma qualification structure

The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma is a professional vocational qualification assessed with a portfolio of experiential learning and a written examination.

It is available in the following disciplines:

  • cellular pathology
  • clinical chemistry
  • cytopathology
  • haematology
  • immunology
  • leadership & management
  • medical microbiology
  • transfusion science
  • virology

The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma portfolio provides a focus for your training, with the portfolio's evidence requirements enabling you to structure your preparation and demonstrate your experiential learning for the examination.  

Your portfolio should include the following:

  • personal professional profile of 500 words (±10%) focussing how your practice has been being developed to a higher specialist level 
  • CPD activities showing how you have prepared for the examinations 
  • two case studies of 1000 words each (±10%) based on specific clinical or management cases or issues
  • two essays based on titles published below
  • transcripts or slides from an oral presentation which you have delivered to a specialist or non-specialist audience
  • three reflective statements of 1000 words (± 10%) on learning outcomes detailed in the study guide 

You must submit:

  • an electronic copy (to and
  • a paper copy (to Examinations, IBMS, 12 Coldbath Square, London, EC1R 5HL)

of your portfolio of experiential learning three months before the date of the written examination.

The submission date will be posted on the IBMS website.

IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide 

Record of CPD activities and reflective practice

Higher Specialist Diploma assessment

The examination of an  IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma involves two assessments:

  • a portfolio assessment 
  • a written examination

You must achieve a pass grade for the portfolio of experiential learning to progress to the written examination.  

Portfolio assessment

Your portfolio will be assessed again the portfolio assessment indicators listed in the IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide

Your portfolio will marked by two IBMS Advisory Panel Examiners in your specialist area.  

Written examination

The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma written examination consists of four papers:

Paper One 

You must answer all 10 question short answer questions in 60 minutes.

Paper Two 

You will be expected to answer three generic questions in 120 minutes.

One of the generic questions will be mandatory and will be made available ("seen question") on the IBMS website at least three weeks before the first examination date.

HSD Pre-seen Question 2017

HSD Exam Pre-Seen Question 2017

Paper Three 

You will be are expected to answer three out of six discipline-specific questions in 120 minutes.

Paper Four 

You will be expected to complete three case studies, one pre-seen and two unseen, in 120 minutes.

The pre-seen case study will be made available ("seen case study") on the IBMS website at least seven days before the date of the first examination date.  The 2017 pre-seen case study questions can be found here.

IBMS Rules for Conducting Examinations


Higher Specialist Diploma candidate preparation days

Higher Specialist Diploma candidate preparation days include information on:

  • what makes a good portfolio
  • the examination structure
  • a presentation from a successful HSD candidate and
  • workshops on the generic and discipline-specific examinations with IBMS examiners

We have now reached capacity for the next event on Tuesday 27 November 2018. We will be holding another candidate preparation day event in early 2019 and as soon as the date is fixed it will be stated on this page.


Higher Specialist Diploma key dates

  • Examination Results  - Friday 16 November (Confirmed)
  • Closing date for applications for 2019 examinations - Friday 3 May
  • Portfolio submission deadline - Friday 24 May
  • Examination Dates - Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 September (Venues - TBC)

Portfolio submission 2019
Candidates will be required to submit an electronic, as well as a hard copy of their portfolio of experiential learning to the Head of Examinations at the Institute offices. The submission deadline is Friday 24 May 2019. Hard copies should be sent to 12 Coldbath Square, London, EC1R 5HL. Electronic copies should be emailed to

Higher Specialist Diploma fees and how to apply

The Higher Specialist Diploma (HSD) fee includes a space at our annual HSD candidate preparation day.

You can apply to undertake an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma:

  • before you begin your training or
  • while you undertake your training and complete your portfolio of evidence

To apply for the qualification in the year in which you plan to submit your portfolio for assessment you will need to submit to the IBMS Examinations Team:

  • payment of £325, along with
  • a completed application form 

Fees can be paid by: 

  • cheque made payable to "IBMS"
  • credit or debit card payment by phone on +44 (0)207 731 0214 ext 142 or 
  • purchase order from your hospital Trust

You can also submit a copy of your application and payment by post to Examinations, IBMS, 12 Coldbath Square, London, EC1R 5HL.

Confirmation of application

Once your application has been accepted you will be sent confirmation of your candidacy and a reminder of the submission deadline for your portfolio. 

Higher Specialist Diploma resources

IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide 

Tips from a candidate

Guidance on Recognising and Avoiding Plagiarism

You can find discipline-specific reading lists to support you in completing an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma on our science reading page.

You can find articles and online resources to support you in completing an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma in our resources section

You can find past paperspre-seen questions and portfolio reference copies on the qualifications resources page.

Deferrals, withdrawals and mitigating circumstances

If you wish to defer, withdraw or highlight any mitigating circumstances please contact as soon as possible.