Clinical Biochemistry is a wide field that provides an interesting and varied career. It provides a virtually unique opportunity to combine advanced practical skills, liaison with clinicians about patients, management skills, problem solving and research. A career as a clinical biochemist would be suited to anybody with an interest in science and medicine. There is a structured career pathway and with a little hard work progression to a rewarding consultant job, with great responsibilities can be easily achieved.
At the moment, Pre Registration training as a clinical biochemist in the NHS takes 3/4 years. During this time you will be employed as a clinical scientist based at a teaching hospital or large general hospital. At the start of training you will meet your training supervisor. This will usually be a consultant clinical scientist or consultant medical biochemist with many years of experience, who will provide one-to-one teaching and advice throughout your training. Usually a number of trainees are appointed in each region of the UK each year; this gives an opportunity to get to know other trainees who are also at the same level as you. Informal trainee forums exist where trainees can share their experiences and learn together.
Most trainee clinical biochemists take a part time MSc in Clinical Biochemistry during their training. This is usually funded by a local SHA. Depending on the region of the UK in which you are employed you will either be sent on a block release MSc course or a local part-time course regularly throughout your training. The MSc provides a major part of the theoretical knowledge of physiology, medicine and analytical biochemistry essential to your work, and gives an opportunity to meet other trainees.
One to two years of training is usually spent in the laboratory of your base hospital learning the techniques that are used in the analysis of specimens and processes within the laboratory. Later, a series of secondments may be undertaken. These allow you to gain experience in a specialist area such as paediatrics, endocrinology or toxicology. You may also be given the opportunity to undertake some research (for example the development or improvement of an analytical test) and learn about laboratory management, audit and quality assurance.
A major part of training is in the interpretation of analytical results. Covered partly by the MSc course and partly by experience at your training hospitals, this involves learning in depth the interpretation of results produced by the laboratory. This is so that advice can be given to the doctor, for example, on further investigations to perform or changes to treatment.
Career Progression - After the basic training you will apply for a Band 7 Clinical Scientist post, these are advertised nationwide. Early in your Band 7 career you will apply for HCPC registration. This is a process where you show that you are experienced enough to work unsupervised. To do this a portfolio of evidence is produced, where you can show what you have learned, both theoretically and practically, and through other experiences such as research and giving talks. You will also usually take professional exams to allow your career to progress, eventually to consultant clinical scientist level. Most clinical biochemists gain Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath), by taking a series of exams over the early years of your career. There is a very structured career progression for clinical biochemists, leading eventually to a consultant post (possibly as head of a large hospital department) with great responsibility, once MRCPath is obtained.
Many trainee clinical biochemists begin their careers with a first or upper second class honours degree in a life science subject (such as biochemistry or chemistry or contain substantial amount of biochemistry). Graduates with degrees in chemistry may also be accepted. A higher degree (MSc or PhD) in a relevant subject may be an advantage and many trainees have these qualifications. Recruitment is done nationally, in a similar way to the university applications procedure. Application forms are available between November to February, with interviews taking place in March or April. Successful candidates will start in the Autumn. Jobs are advertised in a number of regions throughout the UK and you are asked to give an order of preference to where you would like to work. Most Clinical Biochemistry departments would enjoy meeting prospective trainee clinical scientists and many accept scientists on work experience placements. If you are interested in a career in clinical biochemistry and would like to talk to someone who has been through the process or would like to visit a laboratory then contact the ACB office who will put you in touch with an appropriate ACB regional tutor or member of the ACB Trainees Committee.