Biomedical Science is a diverse course which is traditionally aimed at training future hospital biomedical scientists. However only around 20% of Biomedical Science graduates go on to work in hospital laboratories as the course covers almost all areas of human biology and as a result, graduates are employable in numerous fields related to research and teaching. Due to this course being aimed at producing graduates skilled in practical work, there is a massive emphasis on laboratory work, with ratio of lecture hours to practical hours of around 1:1.
While Biomedical Sciences may be an NHS accredited course to work as a biomedical scientist, not every university offers this accreditation and it is worth finding out whether or not the university you wish to apply for offers an accredited course or not. This is only a factor if you wish to go on to work in hospital laboratories in the future.
Universities offering Biomedical Sciences
UCAS and What Uni have listings of which Universities offer Biomedical Sciences, their entry requirements and any additional information required. You also need to check the University's own website to check any specific subject grades and/or GCSE grades. WHICH Uni also has useful data about the % rates of offers to applications for each course.
Biomedical Sciences course admissions requirements range from AAA (Imperial College, London) to CCC (Coventry). There are also Foundation courses which then allow admission to the full degree course for applicants without science A levels (Southampton as one example).
Applicants to a full degree course are expected to have previous science study. Most courses expect at least one of Chemistry or Biology to be studied up to A-Level, while some will expect both to be studied (although they may accept one of the two only at AS-Level).
Only a handful of universities interview for places on their courses, Imperial, Essex and St. George's are three examples of universities which may require interviews before an offer is made, however most students are judged solely upon their UCAS application form.
Biomedical Science mostly involves study of human biology as well as the study of viruses, bacteria and other life forms which influence the human body. There is only a small amount of study related to plant biology.
The following will only act as a rough guide for what is studied during various years in Biomedical Sciences, universities will vary in what modules they teach and also what they teach within modules. The below explanation of what is learnt during the course is only generalised, this list has been compiled using module information from more than one university's web page so is not accurate to any particular institution. However it will provide a general overview of what students will learn on a year by year basis.
In many programmes, the first year is designed to give a general bioscience education in all the major areas leading on from A-Level/Higher or equivalent. Students generally study physiology, cell biology, biochemistry, genetics and lab modules with the aim to give solid grounding for further study; modules also tend to be non-clinical and more general.
Students will sit modules on:
- Human Physiology: Takes a more in-depth look at human physiology than students will have previous experienced. Covers most systems within the human body from the nervous system to the muscular system, however notable exceptions from this module are the reproductive and hepatic systems, which are taught in year 2.
- Cellular Biology: This module focuses upon biochemistry and cellular structures. Structure and reactivity of important biological structures such as carbohydrates and lipids are studied. The ultra-structure of cells and basic function of cellular organelles is taught as well as cellular division and genetic function.
- Skills for Life Sciences/Biosciences: This module teaches chemistry, math and other important basic biological concepts. This module also involves large amount of practical work where students are expected to become efficient using basic chemicals, pipetting, spectroscopy, dilutions, concentrations and other basic laboratory skills.
- Human Health & Disease: This module concentrates on the main causes and characteristics of human disease as well as the students being able to understand the methods used in diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of the disease. Students will learn about drug discovery and development, also the biology of diseases such as cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Common treatments such as chemotherapy and immunisation may also be covered in this module.
- Cellular Processes: A number of cellular processes are studied such as metabolic pathways, ATP synthesis, electron transport and oxidative phosphorylation. Nucleic acid replication, transcription and mRNA translation are studied and the role of chromosomes in higher organisms.
- Microbiology: Microbes are introduced and their evolution. Viral, bacterial and fungal biology and reproduction is studied as well as how humans control them by methods such as sterilisation, disinfection, etc. Mechanisms of disease causation are studied as well as human defence against disease.
- Pharmacology: Looks at the basics of pharmacology (agonists, antagonism...), the different receptors in the body, the profiles of drugs (what receptors they bind to, their affintity/efficacy, side effects etc.), how drugs are metabolised and excreted (includes P450 system), pharmokinetics etc. The pharmacology module is built upon during the second and third year (if chosen as an optional module[s]) where different diseases are looked at, their pathology, the current drugs on offer, the problems with the existing drugs, drugs that are currently in research and clinical clials and potential drugs that could be made. Animal research is also looked at, species differences within animal research, whether they can be applied to humans (the TN114 at Norwick hospital in London, is an example of where it went wrong) and the legislation on animal research.
During the second year hospital and/or laboratory visits may be scheduled to allow year two students to make a well informed decision as to whether they wish to opt in/out for a placement year at an NHS laboratory or work placement. NHS laboratory visits only take place on courses which are IBMS (Institute of Biomedical Scientists) accredited.
- Practical/Employability Skills: Similar to the aim of the year one module 'Skills for Biosciences', this module aims to teach practical skills. A large number of laboratory analytical skills are studied such as spectroscopy, chromatography, electrophoresis, radiochemistry and centrifugation. Using immunoassays and chemical buffers are also introduced, this module is almost entirely made up of laboratory work.
- Advanced Physiology: Builds upon the year one module of human physiology. As well as further study of previous systems; the hepatic and reproductive systems are also introduced as well as study of the blood. Laboratory work includes cell counting, lung function testing and ECG (EKG) measurements.
- Molecular Biology: A biochemistry orientated module with further study of protein structure and their role in the body. DNA is once again covered in further detail as well as it's transcription and translation. This course builds on previous modules by focusing on practical manipulation of DNA and proteins for biochemical usage such as protein purification and DNA strand separation.
- Metabolic Processes: The main topics of study is the energy transfer involved in biochemical reactions and how the body controls them. The processes of glycolysis, tricarboxylic acid cycle, gluconeogenesis, the urea cycle, fat storage and mobilisation are all examples of metabolic processes which may be looked into. Signalling mechanisms, genetic transcription and protein breakdown may also be taught during this module.
- Molecular Genetics: Aims to build upon ideas taught in molecular biology. The genetic processes within viruses is analysed as well as the study of antibody gene structure and function. DNA cloning, PCR and genetic engineering techniques may be taught on either a theoretical or practical level depending on the institution.
- Medical Microbiology: The main goal of this module is to teach how parasites interact with their hosts as well as teaching basic immunology and epidemiology to students. It also discusses the roles of antibiotics and chemotherapy in overcoming infection.
Year three is the only year where students may choose optional modules. The final year also involves taking up an individual research project in the final semester. What the third year involves varies greatly from university to university so this was extremely difficult to find 6 generalised module subjects, however after a lot of digging around on different course pages this seems to be a rough generalisation of what a lot of universities offer, however some universities offer extremely different subjects, such as St. Barts which has a very medicine orientated third year of study.
- Immunology: Introduces the anatomy of the immune response including B-cell and T-cell development, activation and inter-relationships. Also teaches what immunity really means and how vaccines produce immunity.
- Infectious Processes: Students are taught the relationship between pathogens and their hosts. Bacterial pathogens, virology and protozoology are all taught in depth. HIV/AIDS and Malaria are commonly used as examples during the course and bacterial evolution and resistance is studied.
- Human Biochemistry: In many places referred to as medical biochemistry, this module focuses on the chemical pathology of disease. Looks at respiratory, renal and endocrine system disorders as well as going into more detail on glucose and lipid metabolic processes and disorders associated with them.
- Cellular Pathology/Haematology: This course varies from institution to institution in both name and content, but generally involves either both or one of the above. Tissue sampling and preparation is studied along with histochemistry and histology. A student's ability to identify diseased tissue is one of the key skills learnt in the cellular pathology component of the module. The haematology component involves blood production, tissue typing and studying disorders of the blood such as malaria, leukaemia and myelodysplasia. Transfusion skills may also be taught here such as blood groups as well as preparation and storage of blood samples.
- Individual Research Project: This is what's commonly known as the end of degree dissertation. You will be expected with the help of your tutors to investigate and research a topic producing your own findings and conclusions from the research.
- Applied Immunology: One of the two common optional modules which can be taken during the final year. Students are taught in greater detail the immune system's activation and method of response. HIV/AIDS is often used to illustrate the effects of a virus which specifically targets the immune system and approaches to combating the disease are discussed.
- Infectious Disease Control: One of the two common optional modules which can be taken during the final year. It teaches the different kind of drugs used to treat illnesses and their mode and mechanism of use. Also taught is development and spread of drug resistance and immunisation. Methods of approaching vaccine development are also taught.
Since degrees last four years in Scotland, the above list may be a bit unspecific to prospective students but it does hold some weight. The list below shows a very general (and variable) list of possible modules you may encounter throughout your four years at university studying biomed:
- Year 1: Basic bioscience modules including (but not limited to) human anatomy and physiology, genetics, cellular structure and function, introductory biochemistry, mathematics and statistics, chemistry and/or lab based modules.
- Year 2: Modules tend to become more advanced and clinical based including (but not limited to) microbiology, human biochemistry, introductory pathophysiology, biomedical clinical skills, physiology, haematology, immunology, pharmacology
- Year 3: Depending on whether you wish to go on placement or not, the second semester will normally constitute a placement module whereby you work in a hospital lab for sixth months to complete your IBMS portfolio. Modules you may study: clinical microbiology, histopathology, molecular techniques, immunotechnology, microbial genetics, pharmacological based topics, cellular signalling and trafficking
- Year 4:Modules tend to become very specialised to biomed as a whole and vary widely per universities. Although, they all tend to fit the common areas of biomed. You will normally conduct an honours project alongside taught modules.
Note: this is based on a IBMS and/or HPC accredited degree - other non-accreds will vary widely per university.
A placement year generally takes place between years two and three of study. The placement depends on your course, if you are doing an NHS accredited course you will generally do a year at an NHS laboratory however many universities offer a year in the industry which involve working at a company's research laboratory or similar laboratory based work.
NHS laboratories require their technicians to have completed a certificate of competence called the Competence Portfolio, this generally takes slightly longer than a year but some students do manage to achieve the entire qualification during their placement year. NHS work placement involves working in one of the following specialist laboratories: Clinical Biochemistry, Medical Microbiology, Haematology, Cellular Pathology or Immunology. You can achieve certification for all of these specialities regardless of which laboratory you work in, so you do not need to have worked in an immunology laboratory to be qualified to work in one for example. If you have not completed your competence portfolio once the year is over, the NHS is required to give you a laboratory inside an NHS hospital after graduating to allow you to complete your portfolio.
The advantages of doing this during university is that upon graduating you would be trained quicker than others and as a result having an advantage over other graduates leaving university without the year in placement as well as a higher pay bracket as you will be near NHS certified upon graduation. You are also paid a salary while working during your placement year.
The greatest advantage of doing this placement is that the NHS will provide you with a bursary whilst completing the final year of university, this falls under two categories, a means tested bursary and a non-means tested. The non-means tested bursary will be a maintenance grant which varies according to where you live. The means tested will depend on the income of your family.
The disadvantages are that you will have to spend an extra year at university. Completing the competence portfolio is of little use to a graduate who does not wish to go on to do further work with the NHS. Laboratories outside the NHS may or may not recognise your competence portfolio so whether or not it is of use to you in applying for work appears to depend entirely upon where you apply.
Life as a Biomedical Sciences Student
You study a lot of hours, with lectures and labs, but you will find time to go out, have fun, play sport. It does not take up all hours of the day, you work hard and play hard. As long as you get the balance right, you should be OK and find you have the time off and enjoy your life.
Graduate-Entry to Medicine
The parallels drawn between Biomedical Science and Medicine are often pointed out and a lot of Biomedical Science courses contain a large number of medical school applicants who failed to get a place on a Medicine course. Claims have been made that admission tutors at medical schools have begun to prefer non-Biomedical Science graduates due to the flooding of the graduate entry Medicine applicant pool by Biomedical Science students is unsubstantiated.
Many universities encourage Biomedical Science students, along with other students from other related disciplines to apply for Medicine and many leave the door open for these students to apply to Medicine upon graduation. Many Medical schools which also run Biomedical Science courses will often guarantee an interview for graduates from the Biomedical Science programme provided they achieve the required grade during their BSc, and often through a screening scheme. This by no means guarantees entry to the course but puts you one step ahead of graduates applying from outside the university who are by no means guaranteed an interview. In addition, some places like St. George's give the chance for the highest-achieving graduates to transfer directly into the clinical years of the medical course, but competition for this is normally extremely fierce.
The required Biomedical Science grade generally required for entrance into graduate-entry Medicine is a 1st or a 2:1 (some universities will consider students with a 2:2 such as Nottingham and St. George's, so long as they take the GAMSAT). Graduate-entry Medicine is extremely competitive and as an example, during 2006 entry selection, Birmingham only considered students with a 1st from their Bachelors course due to the sheer weight of applications. Other selection tests may be required such as the UKCAT, GAMSAT or BMAT to name a few, this is entirely down to the university department itself.
A good performance at BSc. level will not necessarily make up for sub-requirement A-levels. However this varies greatly between universities and many make no specific mention of required A-Level grades for entrance into the 4-year course. However this does not mean they will not be considered, poor A-Levels may still be a disadvantage during the application process. Many universities will also consider you for the full Medicine programme if you fail to get into the graduate 4-year programme, once again however this varies from university to university.
However, with poor A-levels you are still able to apply for medicine to many of the medical schools which have claimed to take no considerartion of these grades (2008: SGUL, Notts, Leicester, Warwick)
Please note that the course is graduate entry, but is not considered postgraduate medicine, as with all medicine courses, they are undergraduate degrees.