If you enjoy science at school but have decided you do not wish to pursue a career in medicine or dentistry, you may wish to consider Healthcare Science. This includes all science degrees, from biology and biological sciences, chemistry, biomedical science, natural sciences, physics, physiology and pharmacy as well as engineering and maths. The healthcare science team in a hospital play a vital role in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a huge number of medical conditions, as well as in rehabilitation. There are a wide variety of careers available within Healthcare Science which include:
- Life Sciences
- Physiological sciences
- Clinical engineering and medical physics
Life Sciences is divided into 4 areas: blood diagnostic services, infection science, tissue and cellular science and genetics. The majority of your time would be spent in hospital laboratories but you may also work on the wards or in the community. You could be working in areas such as pathology where you would investigate the causes of illness and how they progress; carry out tests on tissue, blood and other samples from patients. You would play a crucial role in the diagnosis of illness, help doctors choose the best type of treatment for patients, and monitor its effectiveness. You may also be working in the field of genetics, understanding the genetic components of illnesses or reproductive science - looking at infertility.
Healthcare science staff who work in the physiological sciences investigate the functioning of organ/body systems to diagnose abnormalities, and find ways to restore function and/or reduce disabling consequences to the patient. The work involves direct interaction with patients in a range of areas. Most healthcare science staff in physiological sciences work in hospital clinics and departments or as part of a surgical team. Some work in the community, visiting patients in their homes or in schools. You could be working on problems with hearing, heart and lungs, gastro-intestinal tract or the brain and peripheral nervous system.
Clinical Engineering & Medical Physics
The healthcare science team in this area use their skills to develop methods of measuring what is happening in the body, devise new ways of diagnosing and treating disease, and ensure that equipment is functioning safely and effectively. They support, develop and apply physical techniques such as ultrasound, radioactivity, radiation, magnetic resonance, electromagnetism and optical imaging to explore or record the workings of the body for diagnosis, monitoring and treatment.
What qualifications are needed?
- You can join as a school leaver with A Levels as a trainee, assistant or support worker
- You can join with a BSc degree in biology, chemistry, biomedical science or any other science discipline.
- You can join the NHS Practitioner Training Programme, which combines academic study with practical experience in the NHS. It is undergraduate training leading to an approved and accredited BSc honours degree in healthcare science. You need 2-3 A levels with science subjects to apply. For details, click HERE:
- If you already have a BSC degree, 2.1 or above you can apply for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) - a three-year programme of in depth training in a specialist area to work at the forefront of research and knowledge. You choose to specialise in one of 9 areas. Click HERE for further information.
The Pharmaceutical Industry
The pharmaceutical industry recruits large numbers of science students – particularly biology, chemistry and pharmacy. Biologists have an important role to play in the exciting discovery of new medicines. Once a company has chosen which disease to concentrate its efforts on, the disease itself needs to be thoroughly investigated and studied in detail. Biologists working on a discovery team will then use this information to take a look at the biochemical pathways (a certain series of chemical reactions that occur in the cells of the body) and pinpoint a molecular ‘target’ in the body that when stimulated or inhibited (switched on or off) will result in the treatment of the disease. Many different biology specialists (e.g. pharmacologists, toxicologists and molecular biologists) are involved throughout the discovery and development of a medicine and each has a vital role.
In the early stages of discovery, chemists work hard to find a ‘hit’ molecule. These are chemical compounds that, when tested, are found to affect a molecular ‘target’ in the body and therefore may result in a treatment for a disease.
As well as these research and development roles, there are many other roles in pharma companies who are interested in science graduates. These include commercial roles, in sales and marketing, manufacturing and supply.