- What is Biomedical science?
- Studying biomedical science
- What to expect from a biomedical science degree
- What subject areas are covered in a biomedical science degree?
- Where should I study biomedical science?
- Job opportunities after graduation
- What can I do with a biomedical science degree?
- Studying for a PhD after your biomedical science degree
- What is a biomedical scientist?
- How do I become a biomedical scientist?
- Salary prospects
- Biomedical scientist salaries
- Biomedical science plus PhD salaries
What is Biomedical science?
The field of biomedical science applies biology-based science to the healthcare industry. Examples include ascertaining blood types for emergency blood transfusions, testing food samples for bacteria in cases of food poisoning, analysing tissue samples from autopsies and detecting cellular abnormalities such as in routine cervical smear tests.
Most hospital departments such as A&E, operating theaters and general wards could not operate without biomedical science. It is a popular area of study for those who enjoy learning about human biological sciences and medicine and want to help people by improving their health, without becoming a doctor.
Studying biomedical science
What to expect from a biomedical science degree
A biomedical science degree requires 3 years of studying. Some universities offer a 4-year degree where a placement year (landing between Year 2 and your final year) offers opportunities to work in industry, academia or develop your foreign language skills.
Some institutes offer the opportunity to complete a placement over the three-year study period as well as complete your Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) portfolio (should you want to become a biomedical scientist, more on this later). Given the practical nature of this degree, it is not possible to complete it by distance learning only.
Most courses are timetabled for approximately 15 hours per week (lectures, tutorials and lab practicals) with additional time expected for self-study and completion of assignments. Overall, students are expected to spend around 40-45 hours a week studying during term-time.
There is also an expectation that students will study outside of term-term (don’t panic, this is more like 20 hours per week during the holidays). The studying format will involve eLearning, podcasts and discussion groups as well as traditional lectures, reading in the library, assignments (such as essays and dissertations) and laboratory practicals.
There is plenty of time for fun too; ‘work hard play hard’ is a good mantra to live by!
What subject areas are covered in a biomedical science degree?
One of the greatest attractions of a biomedical science degree is the wide range of topics covered; this also means there is a lot of content to remember!
Course modules vary across institutes; examples of modules that may be included are:
- cell biology
- biomedical engineering
- molecular biology
- history and philosophy of science
- science in the modern world
You will also acquire training in experimental design, data handling and laboratory skills such as cell culture, DNA sequencing, dissection and immunofluorescence microscopy imaging. Some universities include training on scientific writing, reviewing the scientific literature and referencing published sources.
You will also learn why maths is an important subject in biomedical science. For example, calculating how long it will take for a drug to be metabolised by the body.
Maths is used by researchers when they design clinical trials to ensure the sample size is large enough to generate statistically significant results and mathematical models are used to predict the likelihood of certain outcomes.
You will also need to acquire a good grasp of statistics to enable analysis and interpretation of results, such as understanding normal distribution of the data, correlation, regression, Chi-squared distribution and ANOVA.
Where should I study biomedical science?
If you want to improve your chances in the job market, you will want to study at a reputable institute. According to the QS World University Rankings 2018, the top ten universities in the UK for studying biomedical science are
- the University of Cambridge
- the University of Oxford
- University College London
- Imperial College London
- the University of Edinburgh
- King’s College London
- the University of Manchester
- the University of Birmingham
- the University of Bristol
- the University of Glasgow
It’s a good idea to research what each course has to offer in terms of content and format as well as what each city’s particular attractions are. It’s important to pick somewhere you will be happy to live for 3−4 years, given the intense nature of the studying required.
Job opportunities after graduation
The great thing about a biomedical science degree is that it is incredibly interesting and gives you a strong foundation of knowledge in a wide range of topics, widening your job prospects considerably.
What can I do with a biomedical science degree?
By the end of your degree you will probably have an idea which area you are interested in. You may opt for a career based around a topic of interest such as microbiology or nutrigenomics or a specific disease such as AIDS or cancer.
People with a biomedical science degree are highly employable; employability increases with experience gained. Job prospects are promising and there are a wide range of opportunities available.
The main options include becoming a certified biomedical scientist, a healthcare scientist, laboratory technician or continuing your education by studying for a Master of Science (MSc), Master of Research (MRes) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Some students of biomedical science decide they want to pursue a career in medicine and others capitalise on their scientific writing skills by working in science journalism or medical communications. Others end up running clinical trials or setting up their own biotech company.
For those who realise science isn’t for them, graduate training schemes can be a lifeline to an alternative career as many skills acquired during your degree are transferable (popular non-science options include accounting and teaching). Most biomedical science career prospects offer stable and rewarding occupations with good opportunities for further career progression.
Studying for a PhD after your biomedical science degree
A PhD is a 3-year postgraduate doctoral degree, awarded to students who have researched a significant new contribution to the current knowledge of a particular subject and written and defended a thesis in their research; it is the highest level of academic degree anyone can achieve.
Studying for a PhD tends to lead to an academic research career where you will conduct your own research, present your findings at national and international congresses, publish manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, eventually have your own PhD students and even become a lecturer or a Professor one day.
For those students who have developed an interest in a specific therapeutic area, a PhD can provide rewarding opportunities to design your own experiments and further yours and others’ knowledge in this area.
For those students who enjoyed learning about a wide range of subject areas, the focusing of research on one tiny aspect might not be that appealing!
What is a biomedical scientist?
"Biomedical Scientist" is a title protected by the law; anyone using this title is legally required to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), the official health professional regulators. Biomedical scientists work in a laboratory and conduct scientific tests on patient specimens (tissue samples/bodily fluids) using hi-tech automated equipment and computer analysis to help healthcare professionals to diagnose, monitor and manage diseases.
Biomedical scientists tend to work as part of a multidisciplinary team with other healthcare professionals such as doctors, other healthcare scientists and nurses.
Biomedical scientists tend to specialise in one of three areas:
- infection sciences (identifying viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites that cause infectious disease)
- blood sciences (e.g. diagnosing or researching blood-based diseases such as leukaemia, haemophilia and anaemia)
- or cellular sciences (analysing tissue cells to identify abnormalities).
Responsibilities can range from analysing blood samples and monitoring organ function to assessing the effectiveness of treatment programmes. Central to the role is adherence to strict quality control procedures that have been established to optimise the accuracy of the results generated.
Data will also need to be generated and carefully documented in reports so that clinicians can analyse them and provide patients with a diagnosis. Although there is scope to move between different hospitals, many biomedical scientists remain in their position at the same hospital long-term.
Although job prospects in some specialist areas remain limited, experienced biomedical scientists remain in demand. Further career opportunities tend to be available for those interested in training and education or product development. As well as the standard working week, evening or weekend shifts may also be expected.
How do I become a biomedical scientist?
You will need a Bachelor of Science with honours degree in Biomedical Science, or a BSc (Hons) degree accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) e.g. Healthcare Science with a speciality such as blood science. Once you have a Biomedical Science degree and have completed an IBMS Certificate of Competence, you can then register with the Health and Care Professions Council as a certified Biomedical Scientist.
An IBMS Certificate of Competence is awarded for a combination of academic qualifications and completing an IBMS Registration Training Portfolio in an IBMS approved laboratory. This certified route ensures you are ‘fit to practice’ and meet the required level of proficiency.
For instance, sufficient knowledge of applicable health and safety guidelines, operating laboratory equipment and computers, risk assessments and quality control. You can specialise in a particular laboratory skill such as histopathology (processing biopsy tissue for microscopic examination to investigate disease manifestations) or phlebotomy (taking blood samples from patients).
A career as a biomedical scientist requires other key attributes such as the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, discipline, attention to detail, accuracy, numeracy, initiative, careful planning, analytical thinking, patience and strong oral and written communication skills.
Other important attributes include a professional attitude, strong work ethic and a commitment to the wellbeing of patients. The ability to apply problem-solving skills under pressure is another desirable skill. It doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humour for when things occasionally go wrong (you forgot to switch the centrifuge on, you spilled dye all over yourself...).
Once you are a fully-fledged biomedical scientist you can continue your training and development; for instance, there are several flexible distance learning online courses allowing you to top up your qualifications, undertake Continuing Professional Development (an official record of your experience and training) or even study for a postgraduate qualification (Specialist, Higher Specialist and Advanced Specialist Diplomas or MSc).
Salary prospects are encouraging for those with a biomedical science degree.
Biomedical scientist salaries
Entry level salaries for biomedical scientists working for the NHS start at Band 5 and range from £22,000 to £28,000 for a 37.5-hour week. As more experience and specialist knowledge is garnered, there are opportunities to progress to salary Band 9 depending on the role and level of responsibility. For example, senior biomedical scientists can earn around £35,000 and specialist consultants can earn up to and over £48,000.
Salaries within the private sector (private hospitals/pharmaceutical industry/independent biotech company) tend to be higher than those in the NHS¬ with a more desirable benefits package, with regard to pensions, private healthcare and annual leave allowance.
Biomedical science plus PhD salaries
Those with PhDs tend to have a greater earning potential (but not always, so don’t feel disheartened if this is not an avenue you want to pursue) depending on experience and managerial responsibilities. The average wage for researchers, lecturers and senior lecturers is around £30,000, £45,000 and £66,000, respectively. The average salary of a science Professor is £76,000.
- Biomedical scientist.
- Clinical research associate.
- Clinical scientist, biochemistry.
- Clinical scientist, haematology.
- Clinical scientist, immunology.
- Forensic scientist.
Research organisations laboratories
Some research institutes offer work experience opportunities to work in a laboratory such as this summer student programme and a 12-month sandwich (placement) year programme. Some examples are listed below: Francis Crick Institute. Wellcome Trust.
The average salary for Biomedical Scientist is £35,629 per year in the London Area.