Healthcare Science: The NHS Scientist Training Programme

Katie Bjerkan studied BSc Pharmacology at Leeds, graduating in 2015. She gained a place on the NHS STP as a Clinical Pharmaceutical Trainee immediately after her undergraduate degree.  She recently gave a talk at the University about the programme and getting in. This post is a summary of her talk and further information about the STP.

If you want to apply your scientific or technical knowledge in a healthcare setting, in a role which combines scientific or technical work with patient interaction, then a career in Healthcare Science might be for you.

What is a Healthcare Science?

Healthcare science encompasses a diverse range of scientists, engineers and professionals working in the healthcare setting whose aim is to apply scientific principles to improve health and well-being. Although they make up a relatively small proportion of the NHS workforce, healthcare scientists  are involved in about 80% of all clinical decisions.

Healthcare science is divided into 4 themed divisions as outlined in the graphic below, taken from the Academy of Healthcare Science website.

STP Divisions

What do Healthcare scientists do?

Healthcare scientists are concerned not only with the delivery of current healthcare (such as running and analysing tests), but also with scientific research to develop and improve innovative tests and treatments for the future.  To quote Katie;

In general, clinical scientists utilise their knowledge and skills about a particular area of science, interlink with other scientists and medical staff (doctors, nurses, lab staff) in order to investigate and analyse disease and provide treatments for patients.

Working in healthcare science is a varied role, combining scientific or technical work and research with patient interaction.  The balance of lab or research work to patient contact and other duties will vary depending on the specialism. Katie gave the following examples as illustrations. You can find further details about the various specialisms on the Health Careers site (click on ‘Healthcare Science).

Clinical Bioinformatics – is a mix of lab and patient-facing work.  It involves working with biological data to support the delivery of patient care.  Typical duties might include; being involved in creating new equipment and diagnosing patients through data investigation.

Biomedical Science – Tends to much more lab based, drawing heavily on chemistry-related knowledge. Typical duties might be running routine diagnostic tests you will conduct in the labs for all departments in the hospital.  This is an area that will give you chance to go into further research.

Cardiac Sciences – extremely patient-facing and more of a biology based specialism. Typical duties might include performing ECGs, helping implant pacemakers, diagnosing patients.

The graduate route to a career as a Healthcare Scientist  is through the Scientist Training Programme (STP).

The Scientist Training Programme (STP)

The STP is a paid, 3-year training course combining practical, work-based training with study towards a Masters qualification in the relevant discipline.  You will be employed by an NHS Trust for the duration of your training. On successful completion of the training you will be eligible to register as a Registered Clinical Scientist. There are opportunities to progress from here to more senior roles (both science based or management based) outlined on the NSHCS website.

The STP has the same basic structure for all specialisms, except in Clinical Pharmaceutical Science (see below).  The training programme consists of 4 work-based rotations of approximately three months duration (each with associated academic study) in year one, specialist training of approximately 18 months and an elective placement of approximately four to six weeks. Those in the Clinical Pharmaceutical Science specialism rotate around different departments throughout the entire training programme, as opposed to specialising. Full details can be found in the Programme Handbook.

Entry requirements

Applicants will need to have, or be expecting, a 2:1 or above (or a 2:2 with a relevant postgraduate qualification) in a pure or applied science or engineering subject related to their specialism of interest. These will usually be degrees in the life sciences, physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science or related areas.

In addition to academic requirements, excellent interpersonal skills, an interest in patients and healthcare, commitment to the NHS constitution  and evidence of research experience are all important.  There will be more specific requirements depending on the discipline to which you are applying. Further details, job descriptions and requirements can be found on the STP Recruitment website.

Katie’s background:

Katie completed a BSc in Pharmacology at Leeds.  She applied to the STP in her final year and started as a Clinical Pharmaceutical Scientist Trainee in the September following her graduation.  She outlined what she thinks helped her application.

Research experience: Whilst at University, Katie assisted with research which led to her getting her name on two published papers.  She spoke to tutors whose research she was interested in during her first year, offering to volunteer.

Katie also completed a summer research internship with AstraZeneca before starting university.

Clinical & caring experience:  Katie worked at the Leeds General Infirmary during her 3 years in Leeds,  starting as a phlebotomist and training up to work as an Auxillary Nurse in the A&E department. She also did work experience in cardiology and pathology.

She also worked as a clinical assistant for Covance during university and has volunteered for St Rocco’s hospice over a number of years.

Other experience:  Katie was a course rep and also did some voluntary work alongside her part-time job.  She stressed that getting involved in these activities was incredibly valuable, enabling her to demonstrate interpersonal skills, time-management and more.

Katie’s advice:

Be proactive about gaining experience:  Research and clinical experience are both particularly valuable.  Look out for advertised research internships at Leeds (or other universities) but also approach tutors directly in areas of interest to you to ask about opportunities to help.

Similarly, with clinical experience, look for part-time or casual jobs in relevant areas, but also explore what other opportunities there might be for shadowing, volunteering etc.

Remember the value of other experiences: There are loads of opportunities at University to get involved in a range of things, many of which will enable you to develop relevant transferable skills and demonstrate an affinity with the values of the NHS. Leeds for Life is a good starting point to explore a range of opportunities.

Join professional societies and associations: Katie joined the British Pharmacological Society and the British Medical Association during university and attended some conferences.  Find the society/ies for your area/s of interest and see if there is a student membership option.

Prepare for the application before it opens:  There is an annual recruitment cycle, which usually opens in early January for a couple of weeks.  Use all the information available on the recruitment site to prepare as much as possible beforehand:

  • Look at the generic job description and person specification and assess yourself against these/ think of examples you can use to evidence their requirements. You can find thse in the ‘Important Documents’ section of the NSHCS recruitment site.
  • Read the recruitment guidance and FAQs document.
  • Speak to your referees before applying.  You will need to provide 3 references in your application. Decide who you want to ask – and ask them and brief them about the programme – before applications open so that they are prepared.
  • Practise the psychometric tests. There are links to practice tests in the recruitment FAQs document. Katie also suggested the PSL practise tests.

Attend open days: Open days are organised by NHS Trusts and university partners, covering various locations and specialism.  You can find details of these online. Most of these take place in December and January, with many requiring early registration. It is also a good idea to follow @NSHCS on Twitter.

Don’t be put off applying: The STP is competitive (as are many graduate schemes), but if you are really interested, and feel you can demonstrate the requisite skills and motivation, don’t let the perceived competitiveness put you off.

Further information & resources:

Healthcareers site – For an overview of the STP and of the various roles

National School of Healthcare Science – For detailed information about careers in healthcare science, the STP and the recruitment process.

The NHS Scientist Training Programme Trainee Handbook has detailed information about the STP

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