Assistant Practitioner (Life Science)

In NHSScotland, Healthcare Science Assistant Practitioners normally work in laboratories as part of a team, with other healthcare science staff. They are trained to maintain and operate complex equipment to carry out quality assured tests and technical procedures on biological samples, such as blood and urine.

They provide scientific information to Doctors and other healthcare professionals, to help in the assessment and diagnosis of a patient’s medical condition or disease.

I'm Rachel Neil. I am a Healthcare Science Assistant and I work in Laboratory Genetics at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

When I was at school, I always enjoyed science and I did a science degree. I worked really hard and I even went back to uni to do more modules. I've worked in a lot of different laboratories around Scotland, in Ayrshire and Tayside.

When I come in, I could be working in different areas of the [department], like reception, booking in and [processing] send aways. That's where we actually receive samples in, we book them in and we also send samples to other areas [and] labs all around the world.

There are seven of us that work in this wee area [and] we all get a turn of doing each individual thing and we're always there for each other. We communicate with each other and learn new things and by doing this, you keep your skills up.

[One of the most important things is] definitely communication, because there are seven of us working in this one area, we have to communicate. You can't do your own thing, you have to work as a team. [Another important aspect of the job is having good] general lab skills. Working here, you use the pipettes to send DNA to other labs.

I would say, obviously, with the degree it helps. I came in as a Healthcare Support Worker and it was a college degree that you needed. But, I think if you are interested in doing science, get your degree at university [which will let you enter the laboratory service at entry level, so you can] work your way through the lab. I think while doing that, you actually learn more because you start at the bottom and learn how the whole lab works, rather coming in at the top and not understanding what samples we get and how things are booked in and everything like that.

The support you get within the lab [is good]. They want to help you progress. If you are showing you want to progress, that you are learning how the whole lab works, they are supportive to help you get to the next level. If you show within an interview and just learning in general, that you are very interested in progressing, they will help you as much as they can.

As a Healthcare Science Assistant Practitioner, you could carry out tests and undertake technical procedures on patient samples using a range of scientific measurements.

You would specialise in one of three areas:

  • Infection Sciences – you’ll identify viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites that can cause infection or disease
  • Blood Sciences – you’ll analyse biological samples to help with the diagnosis and management of disease
  • Cellular Sciences – you’ll analyse tissue cells to look for the presence of abnormalities or reveal tissue cell structure.

Depending on your chosen specialist area, your work activities could include:

  • analysing blood samples for disease or abnormalities
  • using specialist procedures, such as cell culture for cancer screening
  • providing test results to clinicians, so they can diagnose and treat patients
  • operating complex equipment, such as a multi-test analyser, chromatographic equipment, radioisotope counter and vacuum-assisted tissue processor
  • providing advice to and supervision of Medical Laboratory Assistants (MLA's) working within the laboratory
  • adhering to quality control procedures to ensure accurate results
  • maintenance, repair, technical fault finding and performance of instruments and equipment

To work as a Healthcare Science Assistant Practitioner, useful skills will include:

  • technical and practical skills
  • a high level of accuracy and excellent attention to detail
  • strong communication skills
  • good organisational skills
  • teamworking skills
  • committed to the wellbeing of patients
  • professional with an excellent work ethic
  • good problem-solving skills 

Useful abilities include:

  • the ability to work on your own initiative and take responsibility for making decisions
  • the ability to multitask and prioritise workload
  • empathy and understanding when working directly with patients
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods

To become a Healthcare Science Assistant Practitioner in NHSScotland, you will need to be educated to SCQF level 8 HND Biomedical Science; HND Applied Biological Science or an undergraduate science degree.

Senior Healthcare Science Support Workers, with evidence of working within a laboratory environment, experience in a wide variety of laboratory procedures and a commitment to achieving an HND in Biomedical Science (SCQF Level 8), may also be able to apply.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme

Depending on the specific role, you may also need to be approved for membership of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme managed by Disclosure Scotland.

You will be encouraged to develop your career in NHSScotland and you will be given the training you need for the job including:

  • All Standard Operating Procedures
  • Quality Management Policies
  • External Quality Assessment and Internal Quality Control
  • Laboratory and Hospital Health and Safety
  • Risk Management

In addition, you'll also be required to adhere to local policies and current data protection legislation, such as GDPR.

In NHSScotland, Healthcare Science Assistant Practitioners start on band 4 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system.

Career pathway

During your career, you may have the opportunity to study for additional qualifications, in order to:

  • keep your knowledge and skills up to date
  • become skilled in advanced technologies and learn how to use new equipment
  • progress to more senior or specialist roles in Healthcare Science

These qualifications will help your career prospects, leading to more senior roles, such as a Biomedical Scientist, Specialist Biomedical Scientist or Healthcare Science Manager. They could also provide the opportunity for you to specialise in areas of Biomedical Science, such as blood sciences, cellular sciences, or infection sciences.

Find out more information from these professional and regulatory bodies: 

Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS)

The IBMS is the professional body for biomedical science in the UK. It sets standards of practice to protect patients, funds research and promotes public awareness of biomedical science. Find out more on the IBMS website

The Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS)

The AHCS an umbrella organisation covering training and policy issues for a range of healthcare science roles. Find out more on the AHCS website.