Biomedical Scientist

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What is a Biomedical Scientist? doctorphoto.jpg

A biomedical scientist (BMS) performs laboratory tests on human samples to help doctors diagnose illness and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment given. The work is vital to the wellbeing of patients as doctors treat their patients based on the finding of the Biomedical Scientist and adjust their treatments according to the change in results produced.

After core training, most biomedical scientists will specialise in one aspect of medical laboratory science. The main areas are: medical microbiology (identification of micro-organisms causing disease and their antibiotic treatment, eg meningitis); clinical chemistry (the chemical analysis of body fluids); transfusion science (determination of donor unit compatibility and investigations into group antigens and antibodies); haematology; histopathology; cytology; immunology; and virology.

Medical conditions biomedical scientists investigate include cancer, AIDS, hepatitis and diabetes. They also investigate blood transfusions and screen cervical smears. Clinical chemistry, haematology and blood transfusion are usually equipped with high levels of automation, but most laboratories are extensively computerised.

Typical work activities include:

  • Testing samples, such as blood, urine, tissue, cerebrospinal and faecal material, for various chemical constituents;
  • Analysing cultures grown from samples;
  • Identifying blood groups;
  • Communicating the results of tests to medical staff, who will then use the information to diagnose and treat the patient's illness;
  • Monitoring the effects of medication and other programmes of treatment by carrying out further tests;
  • Keeping accurate records and writing reports;
  • Responding to and redirecting professional enquiries;
  • Assisting in the production of laboratory documentation, particularly relating to policies and standard operating procedures;
  • Developing new methods of investigation and keeping up to date with new developments;
  • Implementing quality control procedures (both internal and external) to maintain accurate results;
  • Maintaining and updating professional knowledge and taking responsibility for continuing professional development (CPD).

Although much of the analytical work tends to be of a routine nature, some of the tests are challenging and demanding - modern pathology and biomedical work entails complex investigations. The application of information technology is of rapidly growing importance.

Training

Relevant degree subject areas include physical/mathematical/applied science and life and medical science. In particular, the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • biomedical science, biochemistry;
  • microbiology;
  • medical laboratory science;
  • biology, chemistry, physics;
  • physiology;
  • zoology.

The complex investigations involved in biomedical science require a sound scientific education. Ideally, applicants should have a degree in biomedical science approved by the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). For these applicants, the minimum length of in-service training required to qualify for state registration is one year. If your degree is a four-year sandwich course, you can prepare for state registration during the placement year, and can apply to sit the examination for state registration once you have obtained your degree certificate.

Applicants with degrees in related sciences or specifically approved postgraduate diplomas may qualify for state registration after successful completion of an accredited postgraduate certificate or diploma and at least two years' in-service training. The Institute of Biomedical Science(IBMS) the professional body for biomedical scientists in the UK and Ireland, produces a list of HPC-accredited degree courses acceptable for state registration purposes. To determine whether your degree would be acceptable you should write to the IBMS with a copy of your degree certificate and a summary (title of modules) of each year of your degree course.

Entry without a degree or with HND only is less common.

Assuming suitable A-levels (or equivalent) and/or other necessary qualifications, it is possible to do a four-year, part-time BSc in Biomedical Sciences whilst employed as a trainee biomedical scientist. The examination for HPC state registration could then be taken as soon as the degree certificate is obtained. This route is dependent on finding an employer willing to provide the financial support and flexibility required for your part-time study.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed, although an MSc in a clinical or medical subject can be useful.

Pre-entry experience is not essential, although a sandwich placement or other work experience in a laboratory and evidence of medical interest is beneficial, as is arranging a visit to a local hospital pathology laboratory before you apply.

Potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • good practical laboratory skills and manual dexterity;
  • patience and the ability to work accurately and efficiently;
  • the ability to prioritise tasks;
  • a willingness to accept responsibility and employ common sense;
  • good communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team;
  • the ability to maintain client confidentiality.

Recruitment is ongoing throughout the year and there are a reasonable number of vacancies all year round. Competition varies geographically, but is generally less intense in London.

As a graduate with no previous experience, you would enter as a trainee biomedical scientist. Training is on the job and you would be expected to successfully complete a period of training in an approved laboratory. This normally lasts one or two years, but it can take longer, depending on the training undertaken. You must complete a logbook and pass the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) national examination to gain state registration. Those with an HPC-approved degree may qualify for state registration after a minimum of one year.

Student membership of the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) can be applied for on gaining employment in a medical laboratory or starting a course. Following a year's professional training, students with accredited degrees are eligible for associateship whilst others are considered on their individual merit. Fellowship status, one of the highest qualifications in the field, can be gained through higher degree or thesis. Fellowship is a usual requirement for promotion to senior posts in The National Health Service (NHS) and is highly regarded elsewhere. For those that achieve fellowship status and have attained postgraduate qualifications and sufficient continuing professional development (CPD), it is possible to work towards chartered scientist status.

The IBMS has a CPD programme of short courses and workshops that offer in-service training and can lead to the CPD Diploma. An extensive range of training is available, covering quality control, pathophysiology of disease, clinical governance, expert practice, research and development, service planning, health and safety procedures, transfusion science, immunocytochemistry and histopathological dissection. Courses can be undertaken via traditional routes or as distance learning or e-training packages.

Career development

The field of biomedical science is continually changing as new laboratory techniques and treatments come into practice. It is a dynamic profession with long-term career prospects that include management, research, education and specialised laboratory work.

The promotion opportunities for biomedical scientists are dependent on your qualifications, performance and experience. For promotion to senior positions, a higher degree (MSc) or management qualification, for example an MBA or fellowship of the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), is normally required. The need to continue to develop professionally is strongly recognised in the profession, with the opportunity to undertake the Specialist, Higher Specialist and Advanced Specialist Diplomas, or a research or professional doctorate.

Within The National Health Service (NHS), the profession has an established grading structure and, in regions where recruitment is more difficult, it is often possible to progress at a faster rate. For reasons such as this, promotion opportunities can be improved by mobility. For more information on the grading structure, see the NHS Careers website.

Career progression for many biomedical scientists usually involves taking charge of a section within the laboratory or taking over the management responsibilities for a particular department. You may also become involved in advanced specialist scientific work, research or training and education. Opportunities can exist for movement into product development in a commercial setting.

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