Clinical scientists' early career choices and progression: an exploratory mixed methods study

Megan Smith, Jaimini Patel, Sandie Gay, Ian Davison, Sharon Buckley

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BACKGROUND: Understanding the influences on healthcare professionals' career choices and progression can inform interventions to improve workforce retention. Retention of health professionals is a high priority worldwide, in order to maintain expertise and meet the needs of national populations. In the UK, investment in clinical scientists' pre-registration education is high and the need to retain motivated scientists recognised.

METHODS: We conducted a mixed methods study to investigate the career choices and progression of early career clinical scientists. First job sector and salary of trainees who completed the UK pre-registration Scientist Training Programme (STP) between 2014 and 2019 were analysed using descriptive statistics and Chi-Squared tests. Semi-structured interviews conducted with volunteer practising clinical scientists who completed the programme in 2015 or 2016 were analysed thematically and reviewed for alignment with theories for understanding career choice and workforce retention.

RESULTS: Most scientists who completed the STP between 2014 and 2019 obtained a post in the UK National Health Service (NHS) and achieved the expected starting salary. Life scientists were more likely to work in non-NHS healthcare settings than other scientific divisions; and physiological scientists less likely to achieve the expected starting salary. Experiences during training influenced career choice and progression 0-3 years post qualification, as did level of integration of training places with workforce planning. Specialty norms, staff turnover, organisational uncertainty and geographical preferences influenced choices in both the short (0-3 years) and longer term (5 + years). Interviewees reported a strong commitment to public service; and some could foresee that these priorities would influence future decisions about applying for management positions. These factors aligned with the components of job embeddedness theory, particularly that of 'fit'.

CONCLUSIONS: Training experiences, personal values, specialty norms and organisational factors all influence UK clinical scientists' early career choices and progression. Job embeddedness theory provides a useful lens through which to explore career choice and progression; and suggests types of intervention that can enhance the careers of this essential group. Interventions need to take account of variations between different scientific specialties.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1059
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the National School of Healthcare Science, part of Health Education England, UK.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Clinical scientists
  • Career choice
  • Progression
  • Job embeddedness
  • Mixed methods
  • Workforce retention


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