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.

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

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
  • 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.  

Portfolio Submission in 2020

If you are submitting your portfolio in 2020 it must include the following:

  • personal professional profile of 500 words (±10%)
  • CPD activities showing how you have prepared for the examinations 
  • two case studies of 1000 to 1500 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 by Friday 31 July 2020.

Record of CPD activities and reflective practice

Portfolio Submission in 2021

If you are submitting your portfolio in 2021 - please follow the requirements stated on the following factsheet.

Higher Specialist Diploma assessment

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.  

Portfolio assessment

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.  

Written examination

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:

Paper One 

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)

Paper Two 

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.

Paper Three 

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

Paper Four 

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

2 June 2020:  Due to the virus outbreak and the required social distancing rules the date and location of the next HSD Candidate Preparation Day has not yet been set.  Once a date and location is set those who were due to attend the event in April 2020 which had to be cancelled due to the lock down will be given priority to attend.  If you are interested a future preparation event please email with your name, membership number and the discipline that you are, or are thinking about, doing the HSD in. 

Higher Specialist Diploma Key Dates

2020 (Updated 9 October 2020) 

Postponement of HSD Exams

The Education and Professional Standards Committee has made the decision, that due to the current situation with the COVID outbreak to postpone the HSD exams until early 2021. The full statement on the decision can be found here.

All candidates have been informed of this decision by the Head of Examinations.

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 £346 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. 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 essay titles for HSD portfolios

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolios for submission in 2019

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolios for submission in 2020

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolios for submission in 2021

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

IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide 

Guidance on Recognising and Avoiding Plagiarism

IBMS Rules for Conducting Examinations

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

Exam Papers

You can find past paperspre-seen questions on the qualifications resources page.

Paper One (27 July 2020 Update)

From the 2020 exam series 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.

For further information on the HSD please refer to the following articles from the Biomedical Scientist: Here to Help: Higher Specialist Diplomas part one and part two.

Deferrals, withdrawals and mitigating circumstances

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