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. 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. Guidance on the submission of the portfolio to the IBMS via email can be found here.

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

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 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 February 2021 Series  - Release of Results: It is hoped that the results for those who sat the exams on Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 February 2021 will be released on Friday 30 April. This is however subject to change due to the continued COVID outbreak.

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 by Friday 21 May 2021. There is no requirement to submit a paper copy as well.  Guidance on the submission of the portfolio to the IBMS via email can be found here.

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

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. 

Portfolio Submission in 2022: The essay titles for those submitting their HSD portfolio in 2022 will be published in May 2021.

Higher Specialist Diploma resources

IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide 

(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.

How to Guide - Harvard Referencing

How to Guide - Vancouver Referencing

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.

How to Guide - On Reflection

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

Exam Papers

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

IBMS Rules for Conducting Examinations

How to Guide - Tips for Exam Success

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.

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.