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.

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

The portfolio that is submitted to the IBMS 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.

These requirements are also described on the following factsheet.  The HSD Study Guide has the full details of the requirements of the HSD. This can be found here. Guidance on the submission of the portfolio to the IBMS via email can be found here.

The portfolio marking form used by the examiners can be found here.

Written examination

The IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma written examination consists of four papers

Discipline Specific Short-Answer Question Paper: You must answer all four short answer questions in 60 minutes. (See Resources section below for more information on the style of questions for this paper)

Generic Paper: 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.

Discipline Specific Essay Paper: You will be are expected to answer two out of five discipline-specific questions in 120 minutes.

Discipline Specific Case Study Paper: 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

Generic Preparation Events: The IBMS held virtual candidate preparation events covering the portfolio element and the generic paper. The next event will take place in autumn 2024.   If you are interested in attending please email with your name, membership number and the discipline that you are, or are thinking about, doing the HSD.

Discipline Specific Events: These will provide an opportunity to discuss past questions with examiners from your chosen discipline. The dates and times for future events will be advertised here when they have been confirmed with the examiners.

Higher Specialist Diploma Key Dates

2024 – Key Dates

HSD Exams: Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 September (These will be sat at your own place of work)

HSD Results Released: Friday 6 December 2024 (TBC)

Candidates should note that the pre-seen question for the Generic Paper and the discipline specific case study will be published on Friday 26 July 2024. Candidates will sit these exams their own hospital and that they will be expected to find individuals who will be able to invigilate each exam. The exams will run to the following schedule:

Monday 2 September

Generic Paper – 10:30am to 12:30pm - This paper is the same no matter the discipline that you are undertaking the HSD in. Candidates will be required to answer three questions in total. One question is a mandatory pre-seen question. They will then be required to answer two further questions from a choice of four.

Discipline Specific Essay Paper – 1:30pm to 3:30pm -Candidates will be required to answer two questions out of five.

Tuesday 3 September

Discipline Specific Short-Answer Question Paper – 10:00am to 11:00am - Candidates will be required to answer four mandatory questions.

Discipline Specific Case Studies Paper – 11:30 am to 1:30pm - Candidates will be required to answer three mandatory questions one of which will be pre-seen.

Higher Specialist Diploma fees and how to apply

The Higher Specialist Diploma (HSD) fee includes a space at the HSD candidate preparation events.  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 £390 (from 1 January 2024) along with
  • a completed application form 

Fees can be paid by: 

  • credit or debit card payment by phone on +44 (0)207 713 0214 or 
  • purchase order from your hospital Trust

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 £50 administrative fee will be applied to any refund.  Membership of the IBMS must be maintained throughout the period that you are undertaking training for the qualification

Grant Funding (Updated 11 December 2023)

The employers of candidates in England who are undertaking the IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma (HSD) in any of the disciplines (including Leadership and Management) are eligible for a training grant to support candidates undertaking the qualification. The training grant of £1,000 will be provided to the employers of all new candidates who register on the HSD before the 31 December 2024. The grant is also available to the employers of candidates who have already registered on the qualification with the intention to submit their portfolio and sit the exam in 2024 or 2025. More information about the process of claiming this funding can be found here.

Higher Specialist Diploma essay titles for HSD portfolios

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolio for submission in 2023

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolio for submission in 2024 

Essay Titles for the HSD portfolio for submission in 2025

Portfolio Submission in 2025: Both essays that you write must be from the list of titles that you are undertaking the HSD in. If when you applied to undertake the HSD you indicated you wanted to submit in 2025 you must choose any two essay titles from either the 2024 or 2025 list of essay titles. You could do one from the 2024 list and one from the 2025 list or both essays can come from the 2024 list or 2025 list. If you had initially aimed to submit in 2024 but have had to defer submission until 2025 one essay title can come from the 2023 list but the other essay must come from either the 2024 or 2025 list.


Higher Specialist Diploma resources

Study Guide:  The Study Guide include all the requirements of the Higher Specialist Diploma (HSD). It explains what needs to be submitted for the portfolio which is the first part of the assessment process and it outlines the exam arrangements for the qualification.

IBMS Higher Specialist Diploma Study Guide 

Writing at the Right Level and 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. There is also an article to help you to write the essays at the right level.

How to Guide - Harvard Referencing

How to Guide - Vancouver Referencing

Writing at the Right Level

Support Hub Sessions

Plagiarism Demystified -  How to Avoid the Cut and Paste Trap. (Session 8) This session is not specifically aimed at those doing the HSD but will help you in the writing of the two essays you need to do for your portfolio.

Writing at the Right Level (Support Hub Session 1 from 2024). This session provides advice and guidance on writing essays for both the portfolio and examinations for the HSD.

The videos for the Support Hub sessions can be found here.

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.

Reading Lists and Resources: 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 the papers for the last two sittings of the HSD here Please note that we do not publish the indicative answers for these papers and tips on how to pass the HSD can be found here: How to Guide - Tips for Exam Success

The process that the IBMS uses for the HSD exam can be found here IBMS Rules for Conducting Examinations

Short-Answer Question Paper: Questions in this paper 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.