Working as a Biomedical Scientist in Belfast Trust

Kevin McElhinney works as a Band 6 Biomedical Scientist (BMS)in Clinical Biochemistry at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Here he shares a little bit about his job, and what it's like to work for Belfast Trust.


Can you tell us about your job and what you do from day to day?

Clinical Biochemistry analyses predominantly blood and urine samples to assist in the diagnosis and monitoring of patients’ health. Many of these tests are “general biochemistry”, the ones most people would be familiar with, blood sugar (glucose), cholesterol, or calcium levels. Other tests are more specialised, hormone or vitamin levels for example; therapeutic drug monitoring or trace metal analysis. We also provide the neonatal screening service for the whole of Northern Ireland.

The job of a BMS is to ensure the results that leave the lab are a true reflection of the level of that particular substance in the patient. The results tell the doctors the condition of the patient and can indicate the appropriate care or medication. We do this 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, as injuries or rapid changes in body chemistry can mean patients require immediate, potentially life-saving, treatment.

Many of the general biochemistry tests are performed on large automated analysers, so the job is not just processing samples, but ensuring all the equipment operates accurately and reliably from the simplest device to top of the range technology. This is achieved by performing regular maintenance and quality control procedures on all the equipment and analysers. Other (mostly specialist) tests entail skilled, multi-step manual procedures which require dexterity and great attention to detail to produce good quality results. Test results are held for closer inspection by comprehensively trained staff and a great deal of care is taken to ensure they are accurate before they are released to the clinicians.

What experience/education is required in order to perform this role?

As we ultimately have the ability to affect patient care, BMS staff must undergo rigorous professional training. In order to practice legally as a Biomedical Scientist, you must be registered with the regulatory body, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). A period of training is required in order to meet the Standards of Proficiency set by the HCPC and thus obtain registration. The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) is the professional body for Biomedical Scientists and directs the appropriate training for registration through the provision of a Registration Portfolio. This can be completed as part of an accredited integrated BSc degree in Biomedical Science or completed after graduation, upon successfully securing a position as a trainee (pre-registration) BMS.

The IBMS also administrates post-registration training in the form of the Specialist Portfolio, which prescribes the training required to practice in specific disciplines. As well as Clinical Biochemistry there is Haematology, Microbiology, Immunology, Tissue Pathology, Medical Genetics and Histocompatibility & Immunogenetics (commonly referred to as “H&I”) all dealing with patient samples.

Biomedical Scientists must prove they remain “fit to practice” over the course of their career in order to remain on the professional register. They do this by collating evidence of keeping their knowledge and skills up to date and recorded as Continual Professional Development (CPD). Registration is renewed every 2 years and a percentage of registrants are audited for CPD compliance. If insufficient evidence is produced, individuals can be removed from the register and therefore cannot practice as a Biomedical Scientist.

What is the biggest challenge in your role?

I wouldn’t say challenge, but I’m always very aware that although we have lots of training, supervision and procedures, realising you are responsible for the patients’ results can be a little intimidating at first. You do gain confidence as your experience grows, but you must be focussed on what you are doing.

What do you like best about your role and working in HSC?

We have a scheduled rotation through the different specialties within the department, (toxicology, endocrinology, tumour markers, metabolic and others), so you continuously get to see and learn new things. There are always interesting cases as every patient is an individual, so the same medical condition can affect different people in different ways. So although we have little direct patient contact, we still get to see their progress through their results on-screen.

What advice would you give to others looking for a job in your field?

Go for it! The job is really interesting, especially in a big regional laboratory like this. Talk to the IBMS, do research online, find out exactly what each discipline involves and speak to laboratory employees. There are a number of directions a BMS career can go, both within and across disciplines, in the NHS, private industry or research.