Clinical support workers (or medical lab assistants) help scientists and medical staff diagnose and treat patients. They work throughout the health service on wards, and in clinics and laboratories.
As a clinical support worker, your duties could include a range of lab skills such as:
Part of your work may also include responding to telephone enquiries and keeping and filing records.
You could work closely with scientists in a range of areas including:
Biochemistry - studying chemical reactions in the body like kidney failure.
Histopathology - examining the structure of diseased tissue
virology, analysing viruses, the diseases they cause, and vaccines.
Cytology - studying the structure and function of cells, and screening for cancers
Haematology - analysing diseases of the blood and blood forming tissues.
Immunology - examining how the immune system works, for example with allergies.
Transfusion science - transferring blood and blood products from one person to another.
You could combine your role with working in a closely related area such as phlebotomy (see the Phlebotomist job guide for details).
You would typically work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. With some employers, you may need to cover evenings or weekends. Part-time hours are often available.
You would be based in clean and sometimes sterile lab conditions. However, your work could involve dealing with unpleasant or challenging sights and smells from infectious materials, body fluids and biological samples. At times you may need to wear protective clothing, gloves, glasses and a mask to prevent contamination.
As well as the lab, you may also work in a clinic and with patients on wards. You could also have clerical duties and spend some time in an office.
Clinical support workers can earn around £13,600 to £16,700 a year. With experience this can rise to around £18,500.
You will find most jobs within NHS or private hospitals. You may also work in the blood transfusion service, public health service labs or research labs.
Vacancies are advertised in the local press and on the NHS Jobs website.
You may not need any qualifications to start as a clinical support worker. However, some employers will prefer you to have GCSE's (A-C) including English, maths and science, and basic IT and word processing skills. It would also be an advantage to have experience in the NHS (especially in a lab setting) and an understanding of medical terminology.
You could contact the personnel or biomedical sciences department at your local hospital for further information on their specific entry requirements. See the NHS Choices website for details of local NHS Trusts.
You will receive on-the-job training covering issues such as safety procedures.
You may also work towards a Certificate of Competence, which is awarded when you are assessed as performing your duties safely. Achieving the certificate would be particularly useful if you want to progress in your career and apply for senior clinical support worker posts.
You could also take qualifications such as:
Certificate (levels 1 and 2) in Laboratory Technical Skills.
NVQ Level 2 in Clinical Laboratory Support.
NVQ levels 1, 2 or 3 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities.
Joining a professional body, such as the Association of Medical Laboratory Assistants (AMLA), could also be useful in giving you access to education and training opportunities and helping you keep your skills up to date.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A clinical support worker needs:
With support from your employer, you could work towards becoming a biomedical scientist by studying part-time for a biomedical science degree. The Institute of Biomedical Science has more details.
Experience as a clinical support worker could lead to a career as a cardiological technician or cardiographer, a cervical cytology screener or phlebotomist.
NHS England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
NHS Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Queens University of Belfast,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
Medical Biology Centre, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL
Tel: 028 9097 2233
Institute of Biomedical Science,
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.