Applying for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) in 2020


COVID-19 / CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, changes have been made the the recruitment process in 2020. For more information, see the NSHCS STP website (last updated 21 April 2020).

STP 2020 was open for applications from 18th Dec 2019 to Monday 20th Jan 2020.

The NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) is open for applications for September 2020.  Thousands of scientists and engineers of all disciplines work for the NHS, and the STP is how they recruit most of their Clinical Science trainees each year.

Many Manchester students and postgrads apply to the STP, so we update this blog post each year to help you navigate the process (we’ll also update it when there is new information to share with you).

N.B. Some of the resources mentioned in this post may only be accessible by University of Manchester students. If you are not a Manchester student, have a chat with your own Careers Service about the support available to you.

Tips for applying 

As a direct applicant, you have until 5pm on Monday 20th January to submit your online application and until 5pm on Wednesday 22nd January to complete the online tests.  Submit your application well in advance of the deadline: if you experience any last minute hiccups with your application or the tests, they cannot guarantee to deal with queries in the final 48 hours before each deadline.

The National School of Healthcare Science website has so much information for applicants it can be overwhelming – however, if you want the best chance of getting into these super-competitive posts, you’ll hoover it all up and use the advice in your application. A good place to start is by reading the FAQs and the STP Recruitment process guidance for applicants 2020.  Read the job description and person spec to get an overview of the role, then thoroughly research the specialism you plan to apply for e.g. check out the relevant professional body for each specialism.

The list of STP specialisms by location is usually updated throughout the application window, and for 2020 there are 314 vacancies across 33 specialisms (new ones for 2020 include ‘Critical Care Science’ and ‘Medical Device Risk Management and Governance’). Each specialism has a different number of vacancies and not in all regions of the UK. You’ll have to inspect each specialism individually, but as you are encouraged to focus your application on your chosen specialism and not the region, it does make sense: they want to see some focus, people!

Manchester Academy for Healthcare Science Education (or MAHSE) holds an STP open day in January: it takes place on the 8th January in 2020 (if you miss it, the main talks are podcast and include some really useful tips).

Scotland recruit their STP trainees separately and take on about 20 annually.  These are usually advertised later in the year. Keep an eye on their website for details.  The posts in NHS Wales are also advertised separately and in previous years have been posted on the NHS jobs website.  That’s not to say they’ll do the same this year, though…

We have been told previously that only 3 candidates are interviewed per post, so the competition is red hot (data nerds/masochists can check out the competiton ratios). You’ll therefore need some great answers to the essay questions:   set aside some time to do your research, reflect on your experience and craft your answers – do yourself justice here.

Online application form

The online application form has not changed from last year, so if you applied last year, you know what to expect. (If you applied last year, it’ll even autofill some of the application form so double check it is still accurate). Frustratingly, there is still no easy way to preview all the questions before you start to fill it out – so we’ve had a sneaky peek for you.

As you go through the online form for the first time, you can’t advance on to the next page without completing the mandatory sections. However, you can review and change most of the answers once you get to the end – just don’t press “Submit” until AFTER you have filled it all in and checked it thoroughly!

There are lots of mandatory sections, and once you fill in some answers, other mandatory questions may appear.  Be prepared to answer A LOT of questions about eligibility, fitness to practise etc before you even get to the bit where you fill in your education.  You also need to supply the details of three referees, one of whom must be your most recent education supervisor (or line manager, if you have graduated and are in work).

When your application form is read by the people who will shortlist candidates for interview, they won’t be able to see the choices that candidates have made. Hence, if you choose two different specialisms your application will go to both short listing panels, who will not know if you have ranked that specialism as first or second choice. They also will not see any candidate names – it is done completely “blind”.

Essay questions

The form asks the same four questions as last year and, again, you are allowed a maximum of 250 words per answer. An implicit test here is whether you can write accurately AND concisely.


In less than 250 words, please state why you have applied for the Healthcare Scientist Training Programme. Give details of your motivation, suitability and future career development or aspirations. Describe what actions you have undertaken to increase your knowledge, experience and understanding of healthcare science and the training programme for your chosen specialism(s).


In less than 250 words, please describe your commitment, interest and enjoyment of scientific practice and technology. Please provide examples of how you seek to develop, improve and adopt innovative processes in your work or studies.


The NHS Constitution* values and behaviours are paramount to the delivery of healthcare services.  In less than 250 words please describe how within your own experience you would display these qualities.

(*Have you read it yet? You really need to! You can find it here (and there is also a useful video here).  We also suggest you check out the NHS Long Term Plan too as this may help inform your other answers).


In less than 250 words describe occasions where you have worked as part of a team and outline the skills you used to benefit the outputs of that team. Also, please describe a situation or situations when you have taken the opportunity to lead others and identify how you managed any challenges that arose.  (Important: they are looking for scientific leaders, not practioners).

There’s help on completing application forms on our website, including a useful hand-out. We definitely recommend taking the Context-Action-Result approach to structure your answers, to help keep them concise. Always take time to proof read your answers before you submit them (a good tip is to read through them backwards to spot typos). University of Manchester students and recent graduates can get assistance from the Applications Advice service in the Atrium in University Place and also look out for Appointments in your School.

Online tests

After you submit your online application, you have two tests to complete before the deadline, and you have to get through each of these for your application to be considered.

The tests are numerical reasoning and logical reasoning, and you can practise here. We guess they’re using logical reasoning tests to find people who are good at spotting patterns and trends (useful for diagnostics) as well as deductive logic. These tests can be very challenging if you’re not familiar with them, so do take time to practice, especially as only one attempt is permitted per email address!  Previous applicants tell us that with practice you can learn how to answer the logical reasoning questions accurately, so it is worth working your way through example tests.  Although they are multiple choice, in some cases you have to choose from a LONG list of possible answers – guessing will NOT be a sensible strategy!!

diag reasoning

You might also want to check out the psychometric test info on our website, including practice test materials. In particular, try “Graduates First” which provides worked solutions for the answers you get wrong in its tests. We’d definitely suggest using a proper calculator when completing the numerical reasoning test and not the one on your  ‘phone.

You’ll be able to do the STP tests at any time until the closing date but don’t leave it until the last minute: what if your Wifi fails or the site crashes with the traffic of all the last minute tests being taken?

If you have a disability or a condition like dyslexia, you can request extra time to complete these tests. You’ll need to send evidence to support your request at least 3 working days before the aptitude tests deadline date i.e. ideally before Friday 17th January February!  If you fail to notify the team before the deadline date, you may not be granted the extra time you need. (Don’t start the tests before you receive a response from them as they are unable to adjust it later).


Being optimistic …

If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets invited to interview, you might want to check out the interview dates (in previous years, they have had specific dates for each specialism) – there may be no flexibility, so move heaven and earth to get there if you are invited.


Being pragmatic …

Manchester students and graduates have been successful in the past but the number of applicants far outstrips the places available.  Every year, highly qualified and experienced candidates don’t get through, so don’t beat yourself up if your application is rejected.  Ensure you have a fall-back option in place.  Make an appointment with a careers consultant if you are not sure where to start.

STP Interviews

The STP uses the Multiple Mini Interview format and has done for some time. There are 4 stations; with c4 questions at each station; 10 minutes per station and 2-minute rest in between each station. However, some years they change the station themes, so this is the info from 2019 for guidance only. (We will share any updates with you as they come to light).

1: General Science station – Tip: read up on recent scientific news articles; subscribe to journals or scientific blogs; listen to podcasts and revise research methods.

2 and 3: Specialism Specific stations NEW  there will be TWO specialist stations this time!  You need to understand the role you would be going into; to look at the curricula for your specialism on the NSHCS website and demonstrate motivation and passion for the specialism you have chosen.

Having awareness of the following may be helpful:

  • Scientific basis of techniques/procedures
  • Diseases and health conditions
  • What are the current developments, topical issues?

4: Values and Behaviour and Leadership and Management station NEW – we understand that the 4th station will cover all these areas.

You MUST read the NHS constitution and have examples to demonstrate each value from your experience (improving lives; compassion; everyone counts; respect and dignity; commitment to quality of care; and working together for patients).

Note: These examples do not have to be patient focused! You can use examples from University projects or work experience.  The following examples may help you to understand the context and think about how to demonstrate the NHS values:

  • How would you explain the scientific aspects of your work- for example interpret test results- to an anxious patient, who has no background in science, on a busy ward?
  • Improving Lives is a NHS value that emphasises a core function of the NHS and innovation is central to improvement. The role of clinical science is to improve patient outcomes by developing new and existing tests.
  • How would you answer “Tell me about a time when you have found a new way to approach a task or made a suggestion that improved practice”?
  • What are your expectations from the STP?

You need to prepare examples to fit with the characteristics of leadership and management (empathy; consistency; communication; flexibility; direction; honesty and conviction):  For most specialisms, teamwork is very important, and as such, preparing examples of how to work well within a multidisciplinary healthcare team would be very helpful.

Good luck – we are rooting for you!

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