Healthcare scientists apply their scientific knowledge and skills to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and the rehabilitation of patients.
Use the sections below to explore this area of work, how to apply and gain work experience and hear about the experiences of two trainee healthcare scientists on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).
What are the roles in healthcare science within the NHS?
Roles in healthcare science within the NHS are available in the following four areas:
1. Life sciences
Life scientists are critical in helping diagnose and treat disease. This could involve carrying out tests on various body samples and providing results to help other healthcare professions make decisions for patients, or it could be helping couples with fertility treatment.
Work is usually in one of three areas; pathology, genetics or reproductive science and is usually based in either a hospital laboratory or a community clinic.
More specific specialisms include; clinical biochemistry, clinical immunology, cytopathology, cancer genomics, genomics, genomic counselling, haematology and transfusion science, histocompatibility and immunogenetics, histopathology, infection sciences, reproductive science.
2. Clinical bioinformatics
Working in clinical bioinformatics could include developing and improving methods for acquiring, storing, organising and analysing biological data that supports the delivery of patient care. This would involve the use of computer science including software tools that generate useful biological knowledge by manipulating ‘big data’.
This could be in three areas; genomics, health informatics or physical sciences.
3. Physical sciences and biomechanical engineering
Working in physical sciences or biomechanical engineering could involve developing methods of measuring what is happening in the body and finding new ways to diagnose and treat disease. You would also be responsible for ensuring the equipment is functioning effectively. This might involve ultrasound, magnetic resonance (such as MRI) and radiation.
Opportunities exist in;
- clinical engineering (rehabilitation engineering, clinical measurement and development, device risk management and governance),
- clinical pharmaceutical science
- medical physics (radiation safety, radiotherapy physics, imaging with ionising radiation, imaging with non-ionising radiation).
4. Physiological sciences
Most healthcare science staff in physiological sciences work in hospital clinics and departments, or as part of a surgical team. Some work in the community, visiting patients in their homes or in schools.
There are a variety of different roles within this category, including using specialist equipment and advance technologies to analyse body system’s functions as well as helping to diagnose abnormalities. In some cases you could be responsible for suggesting ways to help manage conditions in the longer term.
You could be working in:
- cardiac science
- critical care science
- gastrointestinal physiology and urodynamic sciences
- ophthalmic and vision sciences
- respiratory and sleep sciences
- vascular science
What qualifications are needed to be a healthcare scientist?
The qualifications you need will vary depending on the role you are wish to apply for. For example:
- To work in clinical bioinformatics (genomics) you will need to have a degree in genetics, biology, computer science, health informatics or any course with significant IT content.
- For medical physics you would need to have a degree that contains a high level of physics and whose content would satisfy the majority of the requirments of the Institute of Physics.
How do I become a healthcare scientist? Watch Ben talk about the NHS STP.
The main route to become a healthcare scientist as a graduate is through the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).
This is a three-year programme combining work-based and academic learning in hospitals and health services in England. Trainees also complete a part-time masters degree in their chosen specialism. It is a highly competitive programme; in the latest recruitment round there were 20 applications for every post.
Spotlight On: NHS STP
Ben Nicholson, Trainee Healthcare Scientist, explains what the NHS STP involves including what he does on a day-to-day basis, rotations and studying for a masters.
He also gives an insight into the skills employers are looking for during the recruitment process.
Find out about the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP)
How do I apply for the NHS STP programme? Watch Cara give her tips on applying.
Applications to the programme usually open in January each year. There are a number of open days during the winter where you can find out more about each specialism. To apply you will be invited to take part in the following process.
You need to complete an online application form which asks a number of questions requiring 250 word answers. For example, why you have applied to the programme and your suitability for it. You’ll also need to demonstrate your commitment to healthcare science and technology and to the NHS values, and show your leadership and teamwork skills.
You will then need to complete online aptitude tests in numerical and logical reasoning. You can practice these types of tests using Graduates First. We subscribe to Graduates First so you can access free.
If you do well on the aptitude tests and your online application form hits the mark you will be invited to a face-to-face interview using a multi-mini interview approach. The circuit involves four 'stations' of 10 minutes with four questions at each station.
How can I prepare for the interviews?
Usually the interview stations are themed. For example, there might be a general science station, stations relating to the specific specialism to which you have applied, and one relating to leadership and management or your values and behaviours.
Here are a few hints and tips about how to prepare for and approach different types of stations:
- General aptitude for science and understanding of scientific services in society - read recent scientific news articles, subscribe to journals or scientific blogs, listen to podcasts and revise research methods.
- Specialism specific questions - look at the curricula for the specialism on the NSHCS website. You need to show that you understand what you are going into and be able to demonstrate motivation and passion for the specialism you have chosen. Having an awareness of the scientific basis of techniques or procedures, diseases and health conditions as well as current developments and topical issues may be helpful.
- Leadership and management - prepare examples to fit with the characteristics of leadership and management (empathy, consistency, communication, flexibility, direction, honesty and conviction). For most specialisms, teamwork is very important, and as such, preparing examples of how to work well within a multidisciplinary healthcare team would be very helpful.
- Values and behaviour - read the NHS constitution and have examples to demonstrate each value. Your examples do not have to be patient focused; you can use examples from university projects or work experience. For example:
'Improving lives' is one NHS value and innovation is central to improvement. So you could be asked a question such as:
"Tell me about a time when you have found a new way to approach a task or made a suggestion that improved practice?”
Make sure you have prepared some examples to evidence each value using the STAR technique to describe them.
The STAR technique involves describing the SITUATION, explaining your TASK, describing your ACTION and explaining the RESULT.
Spotlight On: NHS STP
Cara McKenzie, Trainee Healthcare Scientist and genetics alumna, gives advice on:
- applying for the STP
- how to find work experience
- how to successfully navigate the interview process.
How can I get work experience? Watch Cara give her tips on gaining experience.
Finding work experience can be difficult, however there are a number of ways in which you can gain insight into your chosen specialism.
- Attend STP open days that are run by the recruiting NHS Trusts. These are advertised around November and December on the NHS STP website. The open days take place in early January.
- You could write to a specific department and, rather than ask for work experience, enquire about the possibility of arranging a visit. State that you are applying for the particular STP specialism and as part of the application process you are asked to find out about it. A visit and conversation would be helpful to you. You could, if successful, then ask about work experience.
- Plan ahead and perhaps secure a placement in a research or clinical science setting in the summer between your penultimate year and your final year.
- You could use LinkedIn to search for people working in healthcare science and contact them to see if they would be happy to share their insights. Rather than contacting a complete stranger you may want to search for people who also have a connection with your university or home town. People are often more inclined to help if you have something in common. For advice on using LinkedIn visit our online networking page.
- If you are unsuccessful the first time you apply to the programme then consider applying to a lower level role in healthcare sciences (band 2 or 3) in the NHS to gain some experience and insight. This may put you in a stronger position to gain a place on the STP in the future.
Spotlight On: NHS STP
It's very competitive to get on the NHS Scientific Training Programme and if you've been rejected, don't give up - apply again.
Cara McKenzie, Trainee Healthcare Scientist and genetics alumna, gives advice on how to improve your chances of securing a place on the programme.