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How to…find, keep and develop band 6 scientists

Immunology and Blood Sciences Laboratory Manager Penny Feather gives guidance for recruiting and retaining specialist biomedical scientists.

Band 6 biomedical scientists are a vital part of any healthcare laboratory. They are specialists with the experience, skill and knowledge needed to run the service, implement change and support and develop other members of staff. Years have been dedicated to learning the use of and troubleshooting multiple analysers and manual techniques. IBMS registration and Specialist Portfolios have been completed, which are personalised resources that can be used in daily work and to help train others. Specialist biomedical scientists are involved in all aspects of quality and regularly interact with a variety of service users.

The attributes of good specialist biomedical scientists are too long to list and used daily without conscious thought. Although not exhaustive, some of these qualities include teamwork, prioritising and decision-making, communication with all staff levels and groups, demonstrating leadership and training/mentoring others. They are adaptable, efficient, enthusiastic and supportive to those around them. Troubleshooting uses initiative, logic, accuracy and resourcefulness. Most specialist biomedical scientists don’t realise they use these skills and more, that they are embedded into who they are as individuals and in part these traits influenced the choice of career pathway.


Recruiting specialist biomedical scientists is notoriously difficult. In an ideal world the recruitment process would involve an engaging advert attracting multiple applicants from external locations. These applications would all be of high quality from applicants who all answer interview questions well, leading to choice and being able to select the person who would fit best in to the team from both scientific and professional perspectives. In my experience, the reality is very different to this and it is often difficult to attract experienced specialist biomedical scientists from external sources. This is due to a variety of reasons. Staff at this level are experienced but also settled in their personal lives, often with families and commitments that prevent relocation for work. Change of job and location is usually for career progression; those who are content at specialist biomedical scientists level find comfort in what and where is known so don’t want to leave. Specialist biomedical scientists have often worked at one laboratory since university and are loyal to that workplace; as such they ought to be highly valued and are vital to developing newly qualified biomedical scientists. There is also no standard progression process across the NHS, which adds confusion and uncertainty when considering relocating.

“The attributes of good specialist biomedical scientists are too long to list and used daily without conscious thought”

There is no simple solution to this dilemma. In my opinion the best option is to “grow your own”. The pros of this are that trainees have long-term goals and feel supported, are more likely to stay if there are clear progression opportunities and they haven’t had the time to develop any bad habits! On the other hand, there are also cons, including the long period of time a laboratory may face without experienced staff, putting pressure on existing staff to train while maintaining the service. In addition, clear structures and training plans are needed. This is not a quick fix and it can be easy to lose sight of the long-term outcome when faced with daily challenges and the impact this has on morale of the department.

From a manager’s perspective, this scenario is often the case regardless of whether it is what we want or not so it is important to focus on the positives, be enthusiastic and support the team who are working hard every day. There is a fine balance between a workforce that stays because they are happy and therefore don’t want to leave and one that stays because they are stagnant, staying because it is the easier option but not necessarily creating a pleasant environment.


To retain enthusiastic, motivated staff is a constant cycle of engagement, ownership and respect. Continually working on these leads to a positive workspace, good professional relationships and calm atmosphere. Engagement requires clear two-way communication and active listening is vital to give productive feedback and support. It is important to be flexible and make sure opinions are heard and considered.

Ownership is vital as it gives people responsibility and motivation to get involved in a variety of opportunities including mentoring others and quality improvement. Although often an unpopular phrase, quality improvement is constant in a laboratory and involvement in this gives deeper understanding of the reasoning behind a lot of service decisions. By being involved in quality improvement, biomedical scientists are directly involved in decision-making and feel able to control some aspects of work, using evidence to prove positive outcome and improve processes.


Respect can often be the hardest aspect to actively work on. Senior staff should lead by example, be open and honest and aware of both their own limitations and those of their team. Everyone should feel able to voice concerns, be taken seriously and feel that their personal wellbeing is supported. Mental health is something that has had increased awareness over recent years with individual trusts providing many services and tools to help with this and as such wellbeing is rightly taken very seriously.


To develop specialist biomedical scientists it is important to give opportunities. Everyone has a different area of interest; support should be given for them to pursue these. This could be completing further qualifications, such as Masters, Higher Specialist Diploma or local management courses, taking the lead on verification and validation and new analyser installations, mentoring others, secondments or rotations to other departments. Some people have an aptitude for quality and want to be more involved in UKAS, audits, IQC, EQA, stock management and document review, while others are more personable and enjoy the staff management and can perform appraisals, sickness reviews and sit on interview panels. Whatever the interest, it is important to create an environment where these can be expressed and supported.

The biomedical scientist role is a constant cycle, from a trainee who completes the registration portfolio to become a band 5 qualified biomedical scientist, via the specialist portfolio to become a band 6 specialist biomedical scientist (either with automatic progression or when a position is advertised) who then seeks further opportunities to develop e.g. into management, which then leads to a gap in the department which is inevitably filled by a new trainee. It is important to have a mix of staff, some who are content in their job role and some with ambition to progress. It is natural for band 6 staff to eventually want to progress and to want to feel supported and encouraged to do this.

Without working on both the keeping and developing aspects of biomedical scientist management, staff feel unappreciated, taken for granted and unimportant, which will lead to them wanting to leave, or not committing fully to the job. From experience, this creates an unpleasant atmosphere and there is little worse than dreading going in to work each day. I have been the person not wanting to go in each day and I have managed a team who felt like this and neither was an experience I want to go through again. I have put a lot of time and effort into improving things and now manage a team who face all the challenges highlighted above but who (hopefully) have the support of a positive management team; it makes me smile when I hear conversation and laughter in the laboratory. For me in my role now the best reward is to see the people in my team thrive and continue to develop.  

Penny Feather is Immunology and Blood Sciences Laboratory Manager at Path Links Blood Sciences, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Image credit | iStock

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