Most medical laboratory assistants analyse samples of body tissue and fluids taken from hospital patients, including blood, urine and faeces. Their work helps doctors and biomedical scientists to diagnose and treat patients.
The role is practical and varied, and can include:
- Receiving and checking samples.
- Making up chemical solutions.
- Making stocks of 'culture media' (used to grow micro-organisms when testing samples).
- Phlebotomy/venepuncture (taking samples of blood from patients).
- Sterilising equipment.
- Labelling and sorting tissue samples.
- Separating blood serum and plasma.
- Loading and operating machines (eg pneumatic tube systems, analysers).
- Preparing and analysing quality control material.
- Maintaining stocks of consumable items.
- Disposing of chemical or biological waste.
- Inputting patients' data into computer systems.
- Making written and verbal reports of test results.
- Answering telephone enquiries.
- Keeping and filing records.
Laboratory assistants may specialise in one laboratory area, or may work in a range of different areas. The main ones are:
Clinical Chemistry - analysing blood and other biological materials to diagnose diseases such as diabetes, test liver and kidney function, detect poisons or drug misuse and monitor the progress of treatment.
Transfusion Science - identifying blood groups and testing for compatibility of donor and recipient blood, as well as preparing blood transfusions and fluids to be given to patients.
Haematology - testing and counting different blood cells, identifying abnormalities and estimating haemoglobin levels - these tests help in the diagnosis of anaemia, haemophilia and leukaemia.
Histopathology - preparing and investigating very thin tissue samples ('cut ups') for examination using microscopes to establish the cause of illness.
Medical Microbiology - isolating and identifying micro-organisms and testing their susceptibility to antibiotics; diseases diagnosed can include meningitis, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, tuberculosis and septicaemia.
Virology - identifying infections such as hepatitis, AIDS and rubella; also carrying out selected screening of people at risk.
Cytology - preparing and studying samples of cellular material collected from patients - after staining the cells, abnormal cells can be identified using a microscope.
Immunology - investigating a patient's immune system to diagnose and treat conditions and diseases such as allergies, tumours and AIDS; this work includes tissue typing for tissue grafts and organ transplants.
Medical laboratory assistants work 37.5 hours a week, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There can be some evening or weekend work. Part-time work is also possible.
Laboratory assistants work in a hospital laboratory or in an outpatients' clinic. Sometimes they work directly with patients on the wards. The work can involve standing or sitting for long periods, bending and carrying heavy batches of samples. There is also the risk of exposure to hazardous substances.
The work is carried out in clean and sometimes sterile conditions. Protective overalls, coats, gloves, glasses and masks may be necessary at times.
Organisations in Kent Employing Biomedical Scientists
- East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust
- Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust
- Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust
- Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
- Medway NHS Trust
- Nuffield Hospital (Tunbridge Wells)
- Chelsfield Park BMI Hospital
- Pfizer Ltd
- BMI Healthcare (Orpington)
- Launch Diagnostics
Since April 2013, Public Health England and local authorities now take the lead on public health rather than the NHS (although some opportunities still exist within the NHS).
Search for NHS public health vacancies on NHS Jobs and take the advanced search link. Then in the “search by skills” field, try keywords relevant to areas of interest such as project manager/officer/assistant, “public health”, “health promotion”, “public health intelligence”, “health improvement” and “epidemiology” - it should then be possible to find jobs in public health that don’t necessarily have the words “public health” in the title.
Find out more
- Clinical Biochemistry
- Clinical Microbiology and Health Protection Agency
- Clinical Cytogenetics
- Immunological Scientists
- Institute of Biomedical Sciences have a vacancy website which normally carries lots of job adverts for trainee biomedical scientists.
- NHS Jobs England-wide job vacancy website. More than 500 Trusts currently place vacancies on the site. Type LABORATORY into the search box and it will come up with lots of hospital science vacancies many of which are suitable for new graduates.
- There is a list of recruitment agencies which specialise in recruiting biomedical scientists
- Health Protection Agency formerly the Public Health Laboratory Service. Diagnostic service for hospitals.
- NHS Graduate Management Scheme recruitment into HR, finance, informatics and general NHS management roles
- Hospital and Other Health Service Addresses