I want to work in Medical Laboratories
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.