Higher Specialist Diploma
Advance your career and upgrade your IBMS membership
The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma (HSD) is for biomedical scientists 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 HSD 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 (HSD) you will be eligible to upgrade to a Fellow of the IBMS.
Who can apply for the Higher Specialist Diploma
- 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
Please note that the recommendation to have five years post registration experience before undertaking an IBMS HSD has been removed. The Study Guide still states that requirement as that document has yet to be updated.
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
- leadership & management
- medical microbiology
- transfusion science
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. The examination of an IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma involves two assessments:
- a portfolio
- a written examination
You must achieve a pass for the portfolio before you can progress to the written examination.
Higher Specialist Diploma assessment
Portfolio Submission in 2021
If you are submitting your portfolio in 2021 it must include the following:
- personal professional profile of 500 word (±10%)
- two essays each of 3000 words (±10%) based on titles published below
- one Clinical Case Study and one Managerial Report - Each must be 1,500 words (±10%)
- Evidence of an oral presentation in the form of the slides presented and the accompanying notes. There must be evidence of feedback from two senior colleagues, one of who must be their line manager, and reflection by the candidate on the success (or otherwise) of the presentation.
- One reflective learning statement of 2,000 words (±10%). It should be informed by the CPD activities undertaken, the preparation/research done for completing the essays and any other relevant work; the Case Studies and Oral Presentation can be referenced but should not form a significant part of this refection as they have already been included in those aspects of the portfolio.
More information about these requirements can be found on the following factsheet.
Your portfolio will be assessed again the portfolio assessment indicators listed in the IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide. It will marked by two IBMS Advisory Panel Examiners in your specialist area.
The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma written examination consists of four papers. From the 2020 exam series the structure of the four papers will be as follows:
You must answer all four short answer questions in 60 minutes. (See Resources section below for more information on the new style of Paper One questions)
This is the paper which is common to all HSD candidates, no matter their discipline. You will be expected to answer three questions in 120 minutes. One of the questions will be mandatory and pre-seen. This will be made available on the IBMS website at least three weeks before the first examination date.
You will be are expected to answer two out of five discipline-specific questions in 120 minutes.
You will be expected to answer questions about three discipline-specific case studies, one pre-seen and two unseen, in 120 minutes. The pre-seen case study questions will be made available on the IBMS website at least three weeks before the first examination date.
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
Update - 15 January 2021: The candidate preparation event scheduled for Thursday 28 January has now reached capacity. This event will take place virtually and will focus on the portfolio and the generic paper. Discipline specific events with examiners will be arranged for later in the year.
If you are interested in attending a future such event please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, membership number and the discipline that you are, or are thinking about, doing the HSD in so that you can be contacted as soon as the next event is organised.
Higher Specialist Diploma Key Dates
HSD Exams - Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 February 2021
In October 2020 the Education and Professional Standards Committee made the decision, that due to the COVID outbreak to postpone the HSD exams until early 2021. The full statement on the decision can be found here. Following discussions with colleagues arrangements have now been made to allow to sit the HSD exams in their own hospital trusts on Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 February 2021. More information about the arrangements for candidates to sit the HSD exams on these new dates can be found here.
The pre-seen questions for the generic paper and the discipline specific case study paper were released on Monday 4 January 2021 and all candidates were notified via email of the availability of these questions. These can be found here.
HSD Results - It is hoped that the results for those who sit the exams in February will be released on Friday 30 April. This is however subject to change due to the continued COVID outbreadk.
2021 – Key Dates (All dates are subject to change due to COVID outbreak)
Qualification Application Form: Friday 7 May
Portfolio Submission Deadline: Friday 21 May
Exams: Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 September
Portfolio Submission: You must submit your portfolio of experiential learning electronically to email@example.com by Friday 21 May 2021. There is no requirement to submit a paper copy as well. Each of the requirements can be submitted as separate clearly labelled document in the one email or as one pdf document. If you submit the portfolio as one pdf document, you must also submit both essays as separate word documents so that they can placed in the similarity software system.
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 £350 (from 1 January 2021) along with
- a completed application form
Fees can be paid by:
- 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. Once your application has been accepted you will be sent confirmation of your candidacy and a reminder of the submission deadline for your portfolio.
Please note that if you withdraw from the qualification at any point a £30 administrative fee will be applied to any refund.
Higher Specialist Diploma essay titles for HSD portfolios
Portfolio Submission in 2021: The essay titles for the HSD portfolio for submission in 2021 can be found via the link above . If you are submitting in 2021 your two essay titles can come from either the 2020 or 2021 list.There is no requirement for at least one of your essays to come from the 2021 list.
Higher Specialist Diploma resources
(Please note that this document will be updated shortly following the completion of the work of the HSD Review Group. Please refer to the section above on the Qualification Structure that details the updated version of what should be included in the portfolio)
Referencing: Within the HSD the Case Study, Managerial Report and Essays should be referenced. This can be undertaken in either the Harvard or Vancouver style. The following documents provide guidance on how to reference in each of these styles.
Reflection: This plays an in important of the requirements for the HSD portfolio. The following provides guidance on how to write reflective pieces including useful phrases and key words that can be used in such work.
Oral Presentation Feedback Form: As part of the requirements for the HSD portfolio you are required to deliver on which you should get feedback from at least two senior colleagues. This form can be used to gather that feedback and for your to reflect on the success or otherwise of the presentation. It can be accessed here.
You can find discipline-specific reading lists to support you in completing your IBMS HSD on our science reading page. In addition you can find articles and online resources to support you in completing the qualification in our resources section.
Paper One From the 2020 exam series (which due to COVID are taking place in February 2021) the type of questions that will be asked in this exam will change. Questions will focus on problem solving / operational scenarios/ analysis of results or quality control issues in your chosen discipline. Examples of the type of questions that may arise in the exam can be found here.
Deferrals, withdrawals and mitigating circumstances
If you wish to defer, withdraw or highlight any mitigating circumstances please contact firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.