NHS Scientist Training Programme – some questions answered

NB. This post is now over 2 years old and will not reflect the NHS STP as it stands in 2015. Therefore I have closed this post for further comments – please refer to the NHS STP information on the National School of Healthcare Science website.


Previous post (from 2012):

We’ve had some more info on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) from Alan Simmons (Careers Specialist from the NHS) and Antonia Clark (Careers Consultant at City University and our national careers contact for all things NHS). Here’s what Alan had to say:

Which degrees are acceptable for the STP?

There is no finite list of degree subjects that are acceptable for entry onto the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).

The list of STP FAQs on the main NHS Careers website (which was written for 2012 entry but is likely to change little for 2013 entry) includes the following question:

What is a relevant degree?
Successful candidates might have a variety of relevant qualifications and experience. As a minimum, candidates should have an upper second or first class BSc Honours Degree or equivalent in a pure or applied science. The most commonly accepted degrees will be:

  • Life Sciences: life sciences, biology, microbiology, genetics or biochemistry
  • Physical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering: pure or applied physics, engineering, applied mathematics
  • Physiological Sciences: physiology, pure or applied physics, engineering, biology or human biology.

Science degrees related to medicine and those such as biomedical science, medical electronics or biotechnology may also be considered suitable if relevant to the specialty or theme for which you are applying. A second degree and/or research experience related to healthcare science specialisms or equivalent evidence of scientific knowledge and academic capability are also desirable.

Applicants therefore need to prove through their application, that the content of their first degree is relevant to the type of STP vacancy for which they are applying. STP vacancies are likely to be available in the three broad science themes of:

  • Life sciences (e.g. biochemistry, clinical immunology, microbiology, histopathology etc)
  • Physiological sciences (e.g. cardiac sciences, respiratory and sleep sciences, vascular science, audiology, neurophysiology etc)
  • Physical sciences (e.g. rehabilitation engineering, radiation safety, imaging with non-ionising radiation, device risk management and governance etc)

A student planning to apply for a place on the STP needs to decide which area of science they wish to apply for and then demonstrate how their first degree is relevant to that science discipline. For example, a student with a degree in sports science, depending on the exact content of their degree (e.g. if they have studied physiology and/or human biology as part of their degree), might be most ‘suited’ to a physiological sciences STP vacancy such as respiratory and sleep sciences or cardiac sciences.

Details of the learning outcomes, indicative content and work based trainee learning guides for each STP specialty can be found on the NHS Networks website.

What types of roles exist for those who successfully complete the STP? Are some or any of these people-facing, or are they mainly lab-based?

As indicated above, the NHS employs healthcare science staff in three main areas – life sciences, physiological sciences and physical sciences. The range of opportunities is very broad, and is dependent on the area chosen. A student considering a career in healthcare science should be encouraged to research as much as possible about the options available. We have more information about the different areas of science on our main website.

In broad terms, healthcare staff working in the life sciences are predominantly laboratory based (e.g. working in pathology, genetics etc), with limited direct patient contact, although this could change as more NHS staff become community based in the future.

Staff working in the physiological sciences are, by the very nature of their role, working directly with patients, as they are measuring the functionality of a particular organ or body system (brain activity, gastro-intestinal tract, hearing, cardio-vascular system etc).

Some of those staff working in the physical sciences will have little direct patient contact (e.g. device risk management and governance), whereas those working in other areas of the physical sciences (such as rehabilitation engineering) will work directly with patients to design equipment that will help to improve their mobility (for example).

Because of the very stiff competition for places on the STP, how can an applicant enhance his/her chances?

(The full question from a potential applicant went on: “I gather that previous work experience in a lab or as a healthcare assistant may be helpful. Additionally, any activity which demonstrates a commitment to the NHS may also be viewed favourably. Is there anything else?”)

Again, it depends on which area of science they wish to pursue. Lab experience is not an essential pre-requisite for applying for the STP. Evidence of some knowledge of the NHS and perhaps of changes affecting the provision of healthcare may well be expected.

If a candidate is seeking a lab-based area of science, then experience of lab work will be useful; if they wish to work in the physiological sciences, then experience of working with people in some capacity (a caring role, or maybe customer service) could be advantageous.

Are there any possibilities for working in “e health” careers?

If this is an area which interests you, it would be worth finding out more about the work of:

  • NHS Direct which has a broad range of online information about health and recruits staff into ICT-related roles
  • NHS Connecting for Health whose remit is to maintain and develop the NHS IT infrastructure, and is developing systems (for example) around e-prescribing; the choose and book system for patients etc.

It’s also worth visiting the NHS Jobs website to search for possible vacancies. It is not possible to suggest particular job titles as they won’t necessarily be found right across the NHS, so you need to think laterally about skills and search terms, and try the advanced search on the site.

For example, take the ‘advanced search‘ link from home page – then navigate to the ‘search by skills‘ field – and then try search terms such as “telehealth”, “remote”, “mobile device” etc. Trying these today, all elicited some job vacancies, but with job titles you would not necessarily have considered before.

Potential applicants would then need to look carefully at the person specification for each vacancy to see what the requirements are. An MSc (in any subject) may or may not be required, but as with any job application, it’s a matter of clearly demonstrating in their application, how they meet the requirements of the specification.

There will also be companies developing apps and so on for mobile platforms, in conjunction with the NHS, or supplying these to the NHS.

(Note from me: NHS Connecting for Health has links to major suppliers, plus also a link to the e-Health Insider website where you should find lots of other suppliers.)

Hope you find this useful – I’ve started to tag all these posts with “NHS” so if you’ve found your way here by chance, you can find all the other potentially relevant posts by clicking on the tag link at the end of the post.


  1. jade gough says:

    are all trainee positions through the scheme, or are somet positions available not through the scheme, for example posted by a trust onto the nhs jobs website?

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Jade

      From past experience, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the NHS Jobs site, as well as the formal announcement of the STP scheme. The bulk of the jobs will be collected together and advertised/assessed starting in Jan/Feb but in the past, there have been a few advertised later in the year, as one-off jobs. In addition, there may be jobs advertised which are not part of the STP, but could give you the experience you need to make a really good application next time round.

      Keep your eyes peeled!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Hi, I am a 3rd year undergrad student wishing to apply for the 2013 process. Will I be able to apply even though at the time of application I will not have finished my degree? Or would I better waiting and applying for the 2014 cycle? I really want to do it this year if I can! Thanks! Charlotte

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Charlotte

      You can definitely apply if you’re in your final year. The jobs advertised in the 2013 round (Jan/Feb 2013 still looks the likely time) will start in September 2013 – perfect timing if you’ve graduated in June/July.

      On the other hand, some undergraduates don’t really have the right sort of experience, or enough of it, to make a really great application during their final year. It’s definitely worth trying to get in straight after graduating, but if you don’t get in this year, have a back-up plan to get more of the right sort of experience, and plan to apply again next year.


  3. Hi,

    I was just wondering are there any open days for NHS STP in Neurosensory pathway? I have seen some in Medical Physics but none other than that. Thank you.

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Sana

      As far as I know, only a few official open days have been announced so far, and they all seem to focus on medical physics. I suspect this is because that’s where most demand will be (going on recruitment in previous years), coupled with the fact that fewer physicists and engineers will be aware of opportunities in the NHS. On the other hand, just about every life science based undergrad and postgrad knows there are jobs in the NHS, so the problem is more about lowering expectations, rather than raising awareness!

      However, there’s a good lesson here. If you want to improve your chances of getting into the NHS STP, you do need to have found out what it really involves, from people doing the job. Those who are really keen won’t wait until there’s a convenient local open day in their preferred specialism – they will already be making contacts in a local hospital and organising their own individual visit or at least discussion with someone in their specialism. The fact that there’s no simple way of doing this will mark out the really keen ones from the rest.

      I think this will be particularly important for the neurosensory pathway, as it’s a recent addition to the STP, so there won’t be many (any?) graduates who have already completed that pathway. You’ll have to talk to those who’ve entered the profession through different routes, listen to their views of the ways the profession is likely to change, and come to your own conclusions of whether it’s for you.

      Do keep an eye on that NHS events page on Facebook though, as that’s where new open days are likely to be advertised.


  4. Hi,

    I have a mixed educational/research background. I obtained a 2.1 in Anatomy and Physiology. Then went on to work as a Research Technician in an Immunology lab. I want to apply for Clinical Biochemistry but wondering if I stand a chance since my degree was not in Biochemistry or any or the listed degree commonly accepted for the Clinical Biochemistry training course? Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi ST

      I’m not really qualified to tell you whether the NHS would accept the subject of your first degree for this specialism. That said, you’d probably need to make a case for the content of your first degree covering topics relevant to biochemistry. They’ll expect you to already have a strong grounding in this specialism, so if you only touched on it in a few modules, you would struggle.

      You could either ask this on the NHS Facebook page (where you can get help directly from those involved with the STP), on any open day which is relevant to clinical biochemistry, see if you can find any NHS clinical biochemists who are recruiting and ask them, or possibly ask those who are offering the MSc in Blood Sciences which you’ll have to do. (Guess where that is? Sunny Manchester! However, they’ll probably only be able to help with whether you have enough of a background to tackle the MSc, not whether that would convince the NHS as an employer).

      Sorry I can’t give you any inside info on this!

  5. Hi there,

    I was just wondering if you would know how many questions and how long the online numerical and logical reasoning tests each will last? And if there are any similar examples to use as practice ones?


    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Simone

      I’m afraid I haven’t tried the tests myself (I’d have to submit an application to try them out) so can’t say how many questions there are, but the NHS website does say you should allow up to 40 mins for each test. This may include reading the instructions and doing a couple of practice examples, so don’t assume you’ve got 40 mins to complete them all (might only be 30 mins).

      The link already given in the post will take you to practice tests from the right test provider. If you want more practice tests, we have a webpage (http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/students/applicationsinterviews/psychometric/practicetests/) with links to other practice tests. Unless you are a University of Manchester student, you won’t be able to use the “Take the online assessment” link on that page (you’d have to login) but the other links at the bottom of the page should be available.

      Best of luck

  6. Waqas Naeem says:

    first of all, its is great site and it is really helpful..
    I have a general question. I have graduated in BSc. Biomedical Sciences specialises in Biochemistry but this year I have graduated in MSc. Cancer Pharmacology. At the moment, my interested in undergoing medical physics to become a radiotherapy. Would I need A – Level Physics for this scheme? Bear in mind, that I have good knowledge of physics where I have understood most of components relating to medical physics when I visited the open event at Portsmouth.


    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Waqas

      Thanks for the comments about the site – good to know it’s appreciated. Regarding your question, to be honest, I’d be surprised if your background was suitable for the medical physics strand of the STP. You’d start off doing a Masters in Medical Physics, so they’d expect a degree-level understanding of physics or similar (eg engineering) as a foundation. “A good knowledge of physics” isn’t quite the same as passing an honours physics degree with a 2:1!

      However, from your comment re wanting “to become a radiotherapy”, maybe medical physics isn’t really what you’re after anyway? Medical physicists work on the technology, developing new equipment and techniques, and in some cases using medical physics equipment with patients. However, the radiographers are the ones who directly interact most with patients. These are either Diagnostic Radiographers who use that imaging equipment and techniques developed by the medical physicists to diagnose and interpret patient problems, or there are Therapeutic Radiographers, sometimes known as Radiotherapy Radiographers (maybe that’s where you got your terminology?) who use ionising radiation to treat patients.

      There are very different entry programmes for radiographers, normally with a radiography first degree, but there are also accelerated 2 yr postgraduate programmes for those with a relevant life science degree, like you.

      More info here: NHS Careers – Radiographer

      Hope that clarifies

  7. Marinos says:

    Hello everyone. After finishing my online tests I got this emal:

    Thank you for completing the online tests for the NHS Scientist Training Programme.

    We will aim to start contacting candidates in March to inform you on the outcome of your application.

    Kind regards,

    The NHS Scientist Training Programme Recruitment Team

    Does that mean that I pass the tests?

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Marinos

      I’ve searched through the NHS Facebook page, and it looks like you’re OK (unless they raise the cut-off mark – see later):

      http://www.facebook.com/NHSGraduateScheme/posts/548957615123896 – apparently you get an email straight away if you’ve failed, so the March email is good news.

      On the other hand, there are also messages on their Facebook page from the NHS saying that if they have far too many people passing the tests for some strands, they reserve the right to increase the pass mark by a percentage or two, to get to the numbers that they can actually handle at interview.

      Congrats on getting through the tests so far – fingers crossed for the next stage!


  8. Hi Elizabeth,
    I would very much appreciate it if you could kindly answer my question about the entry requirements for the NHS STP medical physics field. Basically I will graduate with a degree in Mathematics, and I am eager to know whether I can apply to the NHS STP medical physics field with my degree. I have read above that the degree subjects required are ‘pure or applied physics, engineering, applied mathematics’. This is giving me cause to worry as my degree title is BSc Mathematics, not applied mathematics. However I do feel that I have studied the applications of maths, as well as areas of physics in my degree. Also, I have emailed the NHS but not recieved a reply for a long time. I therefore emailed King’s College London to find out whether my degree is acceptable for their MSc Medical Engineering & Physics (which is part of the NHS STP medical physics programme), and they have agreed that I am eligible. However I am still worried and confused that the NHS has stated ‘applied mathematics’. Please advise me on whether or not I am eligible. Many thanks

    • Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) says:

      Hi Mia

      I’m sorry but I can’t really help with more detailed entry requirements for the STP – you need an answer directly from the NHS on this one. If you haven’t got any reply by email, have you tried their Facebook page? They seem to respond pretty regularly to enquiries left there. You could also see if you can contact someone in a Medical Physics role within a local hospital, to see what they would think of your degree & experience.

      Sorry I can’t help further but I don’t have any inside info on this one.

  9. Kuenzang Dorji says:

    I am Medical Technologist with 2 year technical and managing experience in busy hematology laboratory. I wish to apply for NHS scientist training programme in blood science for the year 2015, Can any one guide me?


  10. kuenzang Dorji says:

    I graduated from india in the field of bachellor of allied health science(specializes in clinical laboratory technology) my grading was first class with distinction. I was taught in english medium from pre primary till bachellor degree… am I eligible for nhs scientist training programme,do I need to produce english profeciency test certificate. Thanks.

    • Holly (Graduate Blog) says:

      I’m afraid I cannot answer that. You will need to check the information on the website and ask them directly if necessary.


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