• Question: what is a medical scientist?

    Asked by nicole ob to Monica on 15 Nov 2016.
    • Photo: Monica Flaherty

      Monica Flaherty answered on 15 Nov 2016:

      Hi Nicole,
      As a medical scientist I work in a hospital laboratory. Within in the hospital laboratory there is a number of different departments.
      1. Microbiology laboratory- the scientists in this lab culture specimens to isolate bacteria or fungi that are causing infections in patients. Types of specimens we receive are blood(infection of the bloodstream is called septicaemia), sputum(if a patient has pneumonia), stool( if a patient has gastroenteritis), wound swabs from any part of the body, throat swabs(throat infections), ear swabs, cerebrospinal fluid(if meningitis is suspected), urine(urinary tract infection).
      Following culture onto agar plates, we look to see if significant bacteria grow and we identify them. We also determine which antibiotics can be used to treat the infections. This is very important so that the doctors know which antibiotic to use. Different antibiotics target different bacteria.
      Also in this department we can detect viruses normally in blood samples for e.g HIV, hepatitis. We can detect influenza in throat swabs, measles, mumps, herpes simplex virus(cases cold sores) and many more

      Clinical Chemistry Laboratory- In this department scientists work with mainly blood samples. This lab deals with requests for glucose levels( important for diabetics), kidney function tests( important for patients on dialysis), liver function tests-measure liver enzymes, cardiac enzymes( used in determining if a person has had a heart attack). Scientists in this department measure levels of different hormones in the body e.g fertility hormones, growth hormones

      Haematology Laboratory-Scientists in this lab carry out various tests-full blood counts-look at haemoglobin levels, white cell count, red cell count in blood samples taken from patients. If a person has an infection their white cell count will be raised. Depending on the types of white cells raised, doctors can often determine if it is a bacterial or viral infection. Scientists here also will make blood films on glass slides and look for leukaemic cells. Another area is coagulation where they will check how well a patients blood will clot (patients on warfarin have this checked regularly)

      Blood Tranfusion laboratory-this is where scientists group blood and crossmatch blood for patients that need a blood transfusion. This can often be a very busy laboratory.

      Histopathology Laboratory- scientists here receive samples of tissues-small and large(often limbs if they have been amputated). They take a sample of these tissues and embed them in little cassettes of wax. Then using an instrument called a microtome, they cut a very thin sliver off the wax block and placed on a glass slide. This is then stained. This slide is looked at under a microscope and this is how abnormal(cancer) cells are detected.

      Immunology Laboratory-scientists here they detect immunological disorders, allergies rheumatoid arthritis, MS

      Most scientists following graduating from college specialise in one area. In smaller hospitals, scientists may work in more than one department