A life in the laboratory

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 2009, 12:00am

Requirements An interest in doing experiments is important since it is what the job is about. Medical technologists have a huge responsibility, since mistakes could result in deaths. Technologists have to be prepared to handle infectious substances like faeces, urine and saliva samples from patients. They must also possess normal colour vision because many test results are interpreted in terms of colour.

Qualifications A Bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science, which is offered only at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, is required. It is a three-year programme and applicants must study biology in their A-levels to apply for the course. Upon graduation, graduates are eligible to register with the Medical Laboratory Technologists Board to become qualified practitioners.

Average salary The starting salary is around HK$18,000. Senior technologists generally make HK$33,000 or more.

Work prospects The main duty of a medical technologist is to perform diagnostic tests and health screenings. The tests are aimed at diagnosing disease. They also help to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and contribute to researching the causes and therapy for the disease.

In general, there are four types of clinical laboratories: clinical chemistry, haematology and transfusion science, anatomical and cellular pathology and medical microbiology and virology. Medical technologists usually rotate around different laboratories when they first enter the job. They may choose to work in the area that interests them most later on.

In a clinical chemistry laboratory, drugs, hormones and biomarkers such as liver enzymes in blood or other biological fluids are measured. In haematology laboratories, blood cells and plasma factors are analysed for diagnosis of blood disorders such as anaemia or leukaemia. In anatomical and cellular pathology laboratories, tissue or cell specimens from patients are processed for cancer investigations. In medical microbiology and virology laboratories, bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are identified in patient samples for diagnosis of infectious diseases.

A team of technologists is usually led by a senior technologist.

The technologies involving medical testing are ever-changing. One has to be committed to life-long learning for professional development.

Long-term prospects Medical technologists in the Hospital Authority start off at the position of associate medical technologist.

Technologists who want to be promoted to medical technologists must have at least three years of experience working in laboratories and a Master's degree in medical laboratory science.

Outstanding performers with extensive experience have the chance to move up to medical technologist or senior medical technologist.

Where to apply The Hospital Authority, the Department of Health, private hospitals and private laboratories.

A day in the life of a medical technologist

Medical technologists usually work from nine to five, five days a week. Sometimes they may have to work on Saturdays. They may have to work shifts in hospitals which provide a 24-hour service.