Frequently Asked Questions
I am not a member of the Institute. Can I complete the specialist portfolio?
No, you must be a current corporate membership of the Institute of Biomedical. Corporate classes are Licentiate, Member, or Fellow (although the Specialist portfolio is there to allow licentiate members to progress to Member). Associate members are not eligible.
Why do I need to complete the specialist portfolio?
Holding a Specialist Diploma is part of the criteria for upgrading your class of Institute membership from Licentiate to Member. It also demonstrates that you have been assessed against a benchmark standard for a specialist practitioner in your chosen discipline. It is therefore, different from the registration portfolio required for HCPC registration which is used to evidence that an individual has met a threshold standard of fitness to practise which is profession-specific, rather than based solely on a single discipline. Depending on the individual trust it may be used to demonstrate the appropriate specialist knowledge skills required by the Department of Health Knowledge and Skills Framework and Department of Health Agenda for Change Band 6.
The charge by the Institute for the specialist portfolio is £125. Who should pay?
This is a local decision. Both the employer and individual benefit from the opportunity provided by the professional body to facilitate, evidence, and formally recognise the acquisition of specialist skills and knowledge. The charge is a nominal one-off amount towards providing this service to Institute members, and will also cover external assessor expenses for the endpoint assessment.
When can my portfolio be examined?
You are required to be a corporate member of the Institute for a minimum of one year before a specialist portfolio can be externally examined by the Institute. It is possible to have had the portfolio for less than a year and still be eligible for examination.
How long will it take for a date to be set for my examination?
This is dependent on the availability of an external examiner. The IBMS endeavours to allocate an examiner within two months from receipt of your application form. The examiner will then contact your training officer and will arrange a mutually convenient date.
When I completed the registration portfolio I was required to have one file of evidence. Must I approach the specialist portfolio in a similar way? Does it involve as much work or do I simply fill in the portfolio?
Yes, the principles applied to the registration portfolio also apply to the specialist portfolio (although the standard of evidence required is higher than the registration portfolio). Evidence required for either should not exceed one lever-arch file. Guidance notes are available on the IBMS website; additional information has been published in the Biomedical Scientist. An e-newsletter also provides updated information and advice.
Can you provide advice on how to present, organise and complete the specialist portfolio?
Guidance notes are available in the portfolio and on the IBMS website which you may find useful. There should be an index and the evidence should be organised to match the sections of the portfolio.
What evidence do I need?
The type of evidence is indicated by the Evidence of Achievement section, and this is the ONLY evidence required. It must be relevant to the knowledge and competence statements.
In order to sign off some of the sections it says "answered questions set by trainer..." (on a particular subject). Does this mean that there is no point getting other evidence for this, and that the only evidence required are some questions I have answered? Also, I have several pieces of evidence for some sections but haven't yet been given any questions to answer from my trainer, so I’m guessing this section cannot be signed off until I’ve done them?
The requirements for the evidence of achievement sections are clearly stated. All of them have "questions set by trainer". It is essential that your trainer conducts an assessment exercise that tests your knowledge as applied to the particular techniques - this is the purpose of the "questions asked by trainer". Once completed and you have evidence of this the trainer can sign off this part of the standard.
Can I use evidence from a laboratory I worked in before I started my SP? I used to work in a reference lab and have copies of published papers with my name on which cover techniques in the SP but not done in my current laboratory. Obviously, my trainer couldn't sign to say they'd witnessed my practical skills, but would that be ok to cover the principles?
The requirements for the evidence of achievement sections are clearly stated and do not include copies of published papers. (You could put these in your professional portfolio, which is a separate portfolio and is personal to you).
I have partially completed my portfolio in a previous laboratory. Do I have to start over in my new job?
No, evidence collected from a previous job can be used as long as it is still up to date and relevant to the standard. However, it is the responsibility of the training officer in your current laboratory to check your knowledge, competency and portfolio to ensure it is up to standard and ready to be assessed. They may ask for you to review some of your previous work if they feel it is not up to standard or they wish to confirm your competency.
The Evidence of Achievement section requires the trainer's name and signature and therefore should be signed by the person who assesses competence at the end of the relevant training. Underneath is an area entitled ‘Assessors signature’ or ‘Internal Assessors signature’ (depending on the version of the portfolio). The purpose of this is to confirm the section has been completed and the evidence assessed and checked internally the person responsible for overseeing the portfolio training should sign this e.g. training officer. The external examiner will NOT sign any section of the portfolio.
Is the person who signs the person who actually trained you in that technique, or does it have to be the training officer? Is it okay for a BMS1 to sign (if they did the training) or does it have to be a more senior person? I have a very "reluctant" training officer!
The person in the laboratory who has assessed your competence should provide the signature for the portfolio. As long as they are competent to train and assess you, the grade of staff should not be an issue. However, the training officer (or someone senior) should take responsibility for assessing the evidence is appropriate for each section and sign the section underneath the Evidence of Achievement section (assessor’s box).
You may wish to discuss these points with your trainer and perhaps with them also review the guidance on the IBMS website. It may also be helpful to clarify the role of your training officer with your line manager if they are "reluctant" as this may affect the training status of the laboratory if there is inappropriate support for training.
How do I complete the Reflective Logs at the end of each section?
The aim of this part of the portfolio is to encourage you to think about your experience and how you can apply your skills in other areas. Try to capture what the laboratory does in relation to the topic, what you have learned, and how you apply this in the context of patient diagnosis. Future learning is identified by how you wish to build on this experience. It is very much an expression of your personal experience but may help in your preparation for the laboratory tour during which your knowledge will be examined.
I have been working as a trainee biomedical scientist, then as a BMS1 for almost two years in a specialist laboratory (four years in total), but only applied for my specialist diploma book after changing my job and starting an MSc. Should the date of my specialist training be when I became registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) or when I received my book?
It is normal for a newly registered practitioner to commence a period of specialist training in order to consolidate and extend their skills and knowledge in their specialist discipline. Therefore you may have accumulated evidence suitable for your portfolio in advance of receiving it. The date can reflect the start of your specialist training which will not necessarily be the date the portfolio was issued.
Can I use anything I sent for assessment for my MSc, as I completed this while HCPC-registered for the past two years?
It may support your training but portfolio evidence should be specific to your training and assessment in the laboratory and meet the requirements stated in the evidence of achievement section. The IBMS actively discourage the use of essays as portfolio evidence, unless specified.
Do I need to complete all sections of the portfolio?
Yes. However, not all sections require evidence of practical competence (it may state ‘Be able to, describe...'). Similarly, some skills may be transferable such that, together with knowledge, competence in some techniques may be considered to be achievable, even if the laboratory does not perform the method routinely.
How long does training take?
Although training can be expected to take up to two years after registration, it may be possible to complete the portfolio in less time if an individual has previous, relevant experience to build upon for their specialist training (e.g. experienced gained in a single discipline while on a 12-month university placement). The time limit for completing the Specialist Diploma and Diploma in Biomedical Science has now been removed however, there will be an expiry limit of 3 years on any outdated version of a portfolio from the date a new version is introduced. There is still a requirement for evidence to be current i.e. within 3 years of the examination. Evidence older than this will be discounted by the examiner.
As a training officer I have just received a specialist portfolio for a member of staff. How best should I proceed?
There can be no substitute for careful reading of the introductory sections of the portfolios, relevant articles in The Biomedical Scientist, and the Qualifications/ Specialist Portfolio section of the IBMS website which includes guidance notes. You may also wish to contact training officers in other departments to share ideas and good practice so that you fully understand what is required. It is important that you develop a training programme specific to the specialist portfolio, as this is a requirement for laboratory training approval. The crux of the qualification is the ability of the individual to articulate knowledge relevant to their specialist practice (e.g. training junior staff).
The portfolio says: "Answered questions set by the trainer". What questions do I set?
Questions must relate to the knowledge and competence sections and are informed by your own professional ‘working’ knowledge of the principles and application of the techniques. The level of knowledge should reflect that required of a specialist practitioner (see Learning Outcomes in the introductory section). Questions may be verbal during a tutorial session (if so, keep a record of them), written short questions and answers or multiple-choice exercises. The format is at the discretion of the individual trainer and will depend on local circumstances. The purpose of this section is to check the candidate has the required knowledge.
Are there any courses available to support completion of the specialist portfolio?
No specific courses are run by the IBMS, although you may wish to contact your local IBMS branch or university to see if anything is available or can be arranged. Some universities have developed MSc courses with work-based modules linked to the specialist portfolio.
Do I need to complete my training in one laboratory?
No. There is no requirement to complete in one laboratory and in some cases it may be desirable to have a secondment to another laboratory for some modules. However, the laboratory(s) must be approved by the Institute for training.
Do I need the specialist diploma to advance my career?
Although the Institute's qualifications are not mandatory for professional advancement, they do provide evidence by which the employer can measure someone's competence to practise at a higher level.
When can I do on-call?
When your employer (and yourself) believes you are competent. Ability to do on-call is defined by the employer and depends on the scope of practice required to perform an out-of-hours laboratory service competently to the required standard. As with the registration portfolio, the specialist diploma in not linked explicitly to on-call (although it might link to certain elements). It is a requirement of HCPC registration that you work within the limits of your professional competence.
I am changing disciplines. Do I need to undertake a second specialist portfolio?
Not necessarily. There is no requirement to complete a second specialist portfolio; however, there is a requirement under HCPC regulation to be competent in one’s scope of practice, and the specialist portfolio is one way you can gain this competence and evidence it. This could also be guided by the requirements of the knowledge and skills framework (KSF).
I work in a Blood Sciences department. Which Specialist Portfolio should I apply for?
Please contact the IBMS Education Department if you are interested in undertaking a blood sciences portfolio.