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Career profile: Biomedical scientist

Career profile: Biomedical scientistGet the lowdown on what the job involves, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

A what?

Biomedical scientists conduct tests in laboratories, which help doctors to diagnose and treat diseases.

On the job

Biomedical scientists can work in a variety of settings - the NHS, private hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, university and research institutes and government agencies. They can also specialise in a range of subjects:

  • Medical microbiology: Disease causing micro-organisms are isolated for identification and for susceptible to antibiotic therapy. Diseases diagnosed in this way include meningitis, food poisoning, and legionnaires disease.
  • Clinical chemistry: Scientists analyse blood and other biological materials to assist the diagnose of, for example, diabetes. They carry out toxicological studies, test kidney and liver functions and help to monitor how treatments are working.
  • Transfusion science: Preparing blood transfusions and plasma fractions to administer to patients and are responsible for ensuring that the blood groups of both donors and patients are compatible.
  • Haematology: Involves the study of blood to identify abnormalities within the different sorts of blood cells. Such tests are necessary to diagnosis different types of anaemia and leukaemia.
  • Histopathology: Tissue samples from surgical operations and autopsies are processed for microscopes using specialist techniques.
  • Cytology: Preparing and studying samples of cellular material collected from patients.
  • Virology: Specialists test for infections such as rubella, herpes simplex, hepatitis and HIV and also screen selected populations at risk from virus disease.
  • Immunology: Deals with the conditions of the bodys immune system and its role in infectious diseases, parasitic infestations, allergies, tumour growth, tissue grafts and organ transplants. This discipline is particularly important in the monitoring and treatment of AIDS.

Course entry requirements

Most Higher Education Institutions ask for three good A-levels in grades C or above, or good Highers grades, one of which should be biology. Always check entry requirements with the institution of your choice as entry levels may vary a great deal.

What does the training involve?

There are three main routes to becoming a biomedical scientist.

  1. You can obtain an honours degree in biomedical science that has been approved by the Health Professionals Council and then apply for a post as a trainee biomedical scientist. The training, leading to registration, will take one to two years, depending on your ability.
  2. A second route is to obtain an honours degree in a science other than biomedical science before obtaining a trainee post. You will have to take a 'top-up' qualification on day release from your laboratory, as well as training for registration. Your training will take about two years.
  3. A third route is to obtain A-levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent qualifications that meet the entry requirements for a BSC honours degree. You can then apply to those laboratories that take trainees with A-levels, but you will have to study for your degree on a day-release basis, as well as training for registration. Your training will usually take longer than if you enter with an honours degree but you will have valuable on the job experience.

The biomedical science honours degree is normally three or four years. The course content may vary from one institution to another.

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