Tim – Consultant biochemist

Are you interested in the human body? Do you watch medical dramas on the television and wonder how they make those diagnoses in real life? Well, read on – Tim has a job that may be perfect for you!


What attracted you to this job?

At school I was always interested in the human body and wanted to be a scientist. This was a career that I could combine my skills from research and being a scientist to assist in the investigation, diagnosis and management of patients in the NHS.

What does your typical day involve?

So what does a clinical biochemist actually do? I never thought when I was a student that I one day I might be involved in some of the diagnostic storylines covered in dramas such as ER. There can be times when the pressure is on to deliver an urgent result, but delivering a result is not just a matter of giving the clinicians a number. There are a number of processes from when the patient sees a doctor to the result being reported that we are involved including the analysis of the sample and interpretation of the result. Throughout the day I can be contacted to provide advice or interpretation on results for clinicians and other healthcare professionals.

Some days I have the opportunity to go on a ward round where recent cases are discussed in the presence of the clinicians and others. There are also opportunities to participate in research and method development of the service. Everyday is different and challenging.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Using my training and experience to give a diagnosis in a particularly difficult case that may help the patient get the best care possible, as well as facing the challenges of working in an ever changing and challenging environment with work that is patient centered and not profit based.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

When I first tell them I work in an area of pathology they presume it’s all dead bodies but it is far from it. In biochemistry it’s all about measuring substances in blood and urine mostly. You tend to get asked why am I having this blood test done.

How did you get to where you are today?

I enjoyed chemistry and biology so chose to do them at A-level. During my A-levels I went on a course about human physiology run by Manchester University and the Physiological Society. This got me interested so I applied to do a degree in physiology at Newcastle University. After finishing my degree I decided to move to Manchester University to study for a higher degree in research called a PhD. To become a clinical scientist I applied to the national training scheme and was selected. After finishing training I have had the chance to work in a variety of hospitals in Oxford and Belfast where I was encouraged to develop an interest in inherited metabolic diseases. Recently I have become a consultant clinical scientist, equivalent to a medical consultant, in Durham.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your career path?

If you are really interested in being a clinical scientist then the most important things to do are to visit a local laboratory or department, try and speak to a clinical scientist, try and get some work shadowing/experience in a hospital lab and contact a professional body. A recent initiative in the last few years “National Pathology Week/Year” provides excellent opportunities to find out more about what actually happens in a lab and even a post mortem.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

Starting salary is around £25,000. Following completion of training and further qualifications and appropriate experience, progression can be made up the career ladder. If your lucky enough to become a senior consultant working in a large hospital you could be earning between £70-100,000.

What kind of hobbies do you do to relax?

When I first started I was a keen athlete competing for a British League team over 400m hurdles but now that my athletics career is over I still enjoy running to keep fit. I also enjoy singing, travelling and experiencing new cultures.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

I am sure there have been a few especially when I was training. I remember having to analyse some faecal material and the test tube exploded in the fume cupboard sending it’s contents against the glass!

Useful Websites:

I love pathology: http://www.nationalpathologyweek.org/
NHS Careers: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk
The Association for Clinical Biochemistry: http://www.acb.org.uk
The Royal College of Pathologists: http://www.rcpath.org

The Biochemical Society also has a great page on what a biochemist is and how you can make the successful transition from school to university.