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Careers in the healthcare sector

Microbiologists are employed in a range of roles within the healthcare sector. They often work in multi-disciplinary teams alongside people with expertise in a range of fields. Here is a brief guide to the different career pathways.

Public Sector
There are two well-defined career paths for medical microbiologists in the public sector, one via the Biomedical Scientist (BMS) route and the other via the Clinical Scientist route. Anyone wishing to work in either of these roles must be state registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Biomedical Scientists
Biomedical scientists usually work in NHS and Health Protection Agency (HPA) laboratories, investigating samples of body tissue and fluids to diagnose disease, monitor treatments or track disease outbreaks. They also find work in other organizations including the National Blood Service, pharmaceutical industry, university, Medical Research Council (MRC) and forensic labs. Long-term career prospects include laboratory management, research and teaching. Entry is restricted to graduates, usually with degrees that have been validated by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS). It is possible to enter the profession with a related bioscience degree but the Institute assesses course content and it is sometimes necessary to undertake additional study. The IBMS awards a certificate of competence, following a period of in-service training in an approved laboratory, which is required for state registration. Biomedical Scientist posts are advertised on Careerscene

Clinical Scientists
Clinical Scientists generally work in diagnostic laboratories and pathology departments in large hospitals run by NHS Trusts and medical schools. In addition to laboratory-based research, they give scientific and clinical advice that has a direct bearing on the management of patients. Training towards state registration is overseen by the Association of Clinical Microbiologists and can be one of two pathways:

  • a 4-year structured training which includes a Grade A Clinical Scientist course followed by a year or two experience in the laboratory whilst still under supervision
  • a 6-year route, which concentrates on achieving state registration by experience. Applicants must gather evidence to support their case for registration

Health Protection Agency is also a major employer of clinical microbiologists, some of who work in reference laboratories or as epidemiologists. Work focuses on disease diagnosis, treatment and surveillance; clinical scientists often collaborate closely with health care professionals. There is some opportunity to carry out research and development projects in the specialisms of bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology.
Annual recruitment to the national grade A training programme begins in November and the closing date for applications is in February. Competition is very stiff and there is only a handful of microbiology training placements each year. For further details of the clearing house and an application form contact the Clinical Scientist Recruitment Office Tel: 01442 272390 email: [email protected] Some training posts are available directly through the regional NHS Trusts or the HPA; these are advertised in New Scientist and on the HPA website.  

Medical Research
Work in clinical microbiology is not restricted to state registered Biomedical or Clinical Scientists. There are opportunities for PhD and postdoctoral research posts in HPA, university and MRC and hospital laboratories. These are usually short-term contracts but the experience could be used to work towards state registration as a Clinical Scientist by the 6-year route. There are also vacancies for graduate research technicians and assistants.

Graduates with qualifications in biomedical sciences or medical microbiology work in the pharmaceutical industry at most stages of the drug development process. Work may be based in the R&D laboratories, at manufacturing sites, or knowledge and experience can be applied to roles in registration and regulatory affairs or sales and marketing. Further information is available from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). Some posts are advertised in New Scientist but many positions are filled by scientific recruitment agencies.

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