A clinical biochemist is a lab-based medical professional, responsible for the analysis and interpretation of results obtained through the diagnostic testing of physiological samples (both solid and fluid).
Modern diagnostic testing methodologies are mostly automated processes or are facilitated by information technology devices and applications. Consequently, manual interventions are not required in the majority of cases, where no chemical or biochemical anomalies are detected.
Clinical biochemists enter the diagnostic process once these anomalies or abnormalities are encountered, performing advanced diagnostic tests using tools and techniques such as chromatographs, spectroscopes, electron microscopes and electrophoresis.
They then interpret and analyse the results in collaboration with other clinical scientists and make sure that detailed records of the whole testing cycle are maintained.
A clinical biochemist’s other activities include conducting periodic checks of automated testing equipment, carrying out any necessary maintenance on the equipment and making sure that testing conditions are accurately calibrated and kept constant at all times.
Senior clinical biochemists may also be responsible for managing lab teams comprised of trainees, students, assistants and technicians.
To thrive in this profession, it’s also necessary for biochemists to carry out research projects and keep up-to-date on clinical, diagnostic and testing protocols; statutory and regulatory requirements; and medical developments, inventions, treatments and therapies.
Salary & benefits
Clinical biochemists tend to work for the NHS or for pharmaceutical companies that offer diagnostic services.
Entry-level salaries for trainees start at around £25,000 and increase to around £30,000 upon becoming a registered clinical biochemist. Experienced clinical biochemists can earn salaries upwards of £50,000.
Working hours are staggered over a 24-hour period and the expertise of clinical biochemists is required seven days a week. Consequently, employees work in shifts.
Clinical biochemists are also often required to be ‘on-call’ from time to time, where they may be required to go into work on short notice.
Most of the work is carried out in laboratories, which may or may not be based within medical facilities. Some biochemists may occasionally need to travel between the lab and the health facility to consult with other medical specialists.
An undergraduate or postgraduate degree in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry or another related discipline is the minimum requirement for candidates hoping to join a pre-registration programme. Candidates with an MSc or PhD will be favoured over candidates with just a BSc.
The NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) is the nationwide graduate entry programme for clinical biochemists looking to work in the NHS. The scheme runs over a period of three years and involves gaining hands-on clinical experience and working towards the completion of a postgraduate qualification in your desired area of specialisation.
Training & progression
Upon the successful completion of the Scientist Training Programme and obtaining a Certificate of Attainment from the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS), trainee biochemists need to complete certain registration formalities with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), making them eligible to practice as full-time clinical biochemists.
Career growth prospects post-registration within the NHS are driven by performance and training in certain specialisms, such as toxicology, molecular biology and endocrinology. Once you have chosen a certain specialism and you have obtained membership from the Royal College of Pathologists, you can develop your career to become a consultant clinical biochemist.
Other career routes include moving into teaching, focusing your efforts on advanced research in clinical biochemistry, working in the pharmaceutical or clinical equipment manufacturing industry, or moving into product development and getting involved with marketing activities as a technical consultant.