Healthcare science

What is healthcare science?

There are 50,000 NHS healthcare scientists. Compared to the 1.3 million strong NHS workforce, this is only a small proportion, however we are a hugely important and very diverse workforce. Collectively, we perform over 80% of all diagnoses. We are involved in the entire patient pathway, from diagnosis, decision-making, treatment, and rehabilitation across 54 specialisms (areas) of medicine.

Being a healthcare scientist is exciting, interesting, fulfilling and challenging, and there is a role to suit everyone.

NHS England National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) explains what the healthcare science specialities are.

Healthcare science is split into four main areas, each with its own sub-disciplines:

Analytical toxicology
Anatomical pathology
Blood transfusion science/transplantation
Clinical biochemistry including paediatric metabolic biochemistry
Clinical genetics/genetic science
Clinical embryology and reproductive science
Clinical immunology
Cytopathology including cervical cytology
Electron microscopy
External quality assurance
Haemostasis and thrombosis
Clinical immunology
Histocompatibility and immunogenetics
Molecular pathology of acquired disease
Molecular pathology of infection
Tissue banking

Autonomic neurovascular function
Cardiac physiology
Clinical perfusion science
Critical care science
Gastrointestinal physiology
Ophthalmic and vision science
Respiratory physiology
Urodynamic science
Vascular science

Biomedical engineering
Clinical measurement and development
Clinical pharmaceutical science
Diagnostic radiology and MR physics
Equipment management and clinical engineering
Medical electronics and instrumentation
Medical engineering design
Clinical photography
Nuclear medicine
Radiation protection and monitoring
Radiotherapy physics
Reconstructive science
Rehabilitation engineering
Renal dialysis technology
Ultrasound and non-ionising radiation

Physical sciences
Health informatics science
Physiological informatics

Dr Emma Jones

My route into healthcare science was not the smooth journey that many people follow today, and it certainly wasn’t something I set out to do when I was choosing a university degree. It wasn’t even on my radar when I finished my undergraduate degree. This was in biology with a side order of psychology, and I always knew I wanted to do something that changed things and made life better for people. When I finished my degree, I travelled the world (which I whole-heartedly recommend) and largely put off making any decision about what I was going to do with my life. On my return to the UK, I was offered an interesting sounding job working in a medical physics department in clinical measurement. I started in a trainee clinical scientist role which would now be considered an apprenticeship or in-service science training programme. During my time as a trainee, I completed a Masters in Medical Informatics and Healthcare Technology, and later went through equivalence to become a HCPC-registered clinical scientist.

I have had many exciting development opportunities during my career with great support from many amazing leaders/bosses. They obviously saw something in me and have been some of my biggest supporters. I was very fortunate to be funded through a part-time clinical research PhD, which was a labour of love. Since completing it a decade ago I have been involved in research, developed a GI physiology service and have had the privilege to work with some fantastic people and lead some great teams at University Hospital Southampton. My most recent endeavour was completing a year-long clinical leadership fellowship with Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management which was the most transformative experience of my career to date.

I started my healthcare science career 25 years ago as a bit of a square peg in a round hole, but I found the right fit. I love the fact I really enjoy my job and get to make a difference to the quality of people’s lives. I now work in a dual role as the Head of Clinical Measurement at University Hospitals Dorset and the Lead Healthcare Scientist for Dorset (ICB).

I would recommend if you’re interested in a career in healthcare science but not sure whether you have exactly the right credentials its worth applying, particularly if you are keen, interested and genuinely care about people. I am a firm believer that as a healthcare science manager and a leader I can teach you the skills and knowledge you need to become a good scientist, but it’s much harder to teach being a team player, showing initiative, having common sense and integrity, having a strong work ethic, and treating people with compassion. These attributes are as important as scientific knowledge.