Hong Kong lab technicians on their role in testing for disease

  • A developed medical system needs more than doctors and nurses - lab techs are important health care workers too
  • Two graduates from City University’s Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences programme talk about their work and job prospects
Wong Tsui-kai |

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Winnie Wu So-yat in her job as a lab technician. She noted that her programme of study was not easy, but that the job prospects are good for new graduates.

A good medical system needs more than doctors and nurses – laboratory technicians play a very important role, too. They do all kinds of tests, and as technology advances, there are more ways of testing diseases. This means there is a need for more lab technicians.

For Anthony Pang Lok-kan, 25, who was part of the first group of graduates from City University’s Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences programme in 2017, choosing this job was an easy decision. “I like doing lab work and finding out about the causes of things in chemistry and biology,” he says, adding that he started to develop an interest in the field in secondary school.

But the work may not be suitable for everyone, as fellow graduate Winnie Wu So-yat, 24, points out. “Working in a lab can be pretty boring. A lot of the testing steps are repetitive,” she says. “We have to make sure everything is standardised. We have to be able to separate the normal from the abnormal.”

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As newly minted health care workers, the pair are still learning. Their main tasks include routine maintenance of equipment, making sure the labs are well stocked, and gaining as much knowledge as they can by taking on various tasks. They will need more experience before they can work independently and sign off on test reports.

“It takes a certain level of experience and knowledge to complete a report, and an accurate report is important in helping doctors make decisions on diagnoses and treatments,” Wu says, saying her current experience is similar to an apprenticeship.

Pang says that getting a result from a sample is not as simple as sticking it into a machine. While most tests are routine, there are some that aren’t.

Anthony Pang was part of the first group of graduates from City University's Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences programme in 2017.

“Sometimes you have results that aren’t clear for unknown reasons. That’s when lab technicians start troubleshooting, using scientific methods, to rule out the problems before they can write a medical report,” he says.

Wu says that the most frequent question younger students in the CityU programme ask her is career prospects.

“The prospects are pretty good; as long as you have a licence, you will definitely find work. I am quite happy with my salary. Not many jobs offer HK$30,000 a month to fresh graduates.”

But she did face uncertainties and difficulties. In Hong Kong, the profession is regulated and licensed by law, and the latest statistics from the Department of Health show that the city had 3,767 licensed technicians in 2018.

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“The medical laboratory technicians’ board studies individuals and decides whether they will get a licence. Not every graduate can get a licence.

“It was a bit of a gamble when I decided to study the programme. Some of my fellow graduates failed to get a licence” she says.

In addition, the programme is not easy, Pang adds. “It requires a lot of memorisation. You have to have a genuine interest in the subject.”

Wu agrees. “You have to be mentally prepared for the stress [of the courses]. You won’t have much of a social life while you are in the programme,” she says.

She adds that in this line of work, you need to be accurate every step of the way. Making a mistake can threaten a patient’s life.

“You have to be 100 per cent correct all the time,” she says.