Written By

Nicolette Ward


College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

8 February 2022

Exploring Medical Laboratory Science

Interested in science and technology? Want to make a difference to people’s health? Hear from two recently graduated students, Saskia De Jong and Arthit Singtothong about their degree in Medical Laboratory Science and explore why it was the perfect fit for them.

Growing up in the lab: Saskia De Jong

For Saskia De Jong, working in a laboratory is both a comforting place to be and also a place where profound discoveries can be made.

My mum's a veterinary microbiologist, so labs have been a very comfortable and familiar place to me ever since I was young.

I would describe myself as an analytical type of person who enjoys the little details of looking at a sample down the microscope to find out what is happening with that patient. The work that medical laboratory scientists do is important, even if we are somewhat invisible from the patients themselves.

For example, pathology samples can show whether there is an infection or not, what sort of infection that may be, which will in turn determine the type of antibiotics that may be needed for that.

Studying at JCU and being located in the Tropics means that students see some interesting samples down the microscope throughout their studies.

We've got a smorgasbord of infections in the Tropics, all of which are really interesting to learn about. I actually chose to do my elective subject in the molecular analysis of tropical microbes.

Quite a few of the lecturers at JCU are experts in tropical diseases such as melioidosis, tuberculosis and malaria. Melioidosis, a bacteria which exists in our soils, is especially relevant to North Queensland as it can become a danger to people after floods. We also learn about epidemiology, that is, how infectious diseases spread through the community and how to prevent them from spreading.

A smorgasbord of specialisations

Another attraction to studying medical laboratory science, according to Saskia, are the many specialisations on offer in the degree.

In fourth year, you get to go through all the different specialities, such as haematology, biochemistry, immunohematology and histology.

Haematology involves looking at red cells and a patient's blood. As a medical scientist, you can work in overseeing all of the blood products used in blood banking and blood transfusion medicine which can be lifesaving to a patient.

Histology is about the microscopic anatomy of biological tissues and cells, like checking a biopsy for skin cancer, for example. It also includes the use of stains and dyes to highlight different tissue structures.

Biochemistry relates to the biochemical profile we get from conducting blood tests used to evaluate the health of critical organs and systems, such as the liver and kidneys. We also analyse samples of serum, plasma and urine for specific chemicals that can have an impact on the body organs.

And then there’s microbiology, which includes looking at bacteria, viruses and other microbes. It’s the smelly side to med lab science, as the microbes or bugs release gases. Microbiology also has its own specialisations, such as PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) type of testing for infectious diseases, which is the test used to detect to COVID-19 and other viruses.

PCR tests are also used to identify if there's a genetic abnormality or gene mutation, which might predispose someone to a particular disease. It’s an exciting and expanding field of med lab science and there's a lot of opportunities developing.

Placements and future directions

Fourth year is also when students get to put into practice what they have learnt by going on placements.

When I was on my fourth-year placement in Charleville with Queensland Health, I found that there was a lot more interaction between the patients, the medical laboratory scientists and the doctors. So, for people a bit more interested in having a patient facing role in pathology, there's definitely a place for them in these types of locations.

As a newly graduated scientist, I am keen to get exposure in all the different areas of medical laboratory science. Most med lab scientists work in labs connected to hospitals or for private pathology companies, but we can also work in veterinary science labs, labs testing soil samples or marine samples, or in a research lab conducting clinical trials for new vaccines, for example.

For someone with a more adventurous mindset, there are also lots of opportunities within pathology to do rural relief work where you get to travel around to the different labs throughout the state to cover any staff shortages, from Emerald all the way up to Thursday Island.

"The work that medical laboratory scientists do is important, even if we are somewhat invisible to the patients themselves."

JCU Graduate Saskia De Jong

JCU Graduate Arthit Singtothong

Switching between degrees: Arthit Singtothong

After first completing a degree in biotechnology and working in research, Arthit had a longing for a more healthcare focused role in the medical technology field and so took the plunge to start his second JCU degree, this time in Medical Laboratory Science.

I was wanting more of a hands-on role in healthcare and so I embarked upon doing a second degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Fortunately, I was able to get credit for a lot of the subjects from the biotechnology degree which definitely helped with making the switch.

Like biotech, medical lab science involves keeping up with new technology and advances in medical science, but it also gives you the opportunity to be part of the clinical team behind the scenes working to improve a patient’s health or even save a patient’s life.

The lab facilities at JCU are equipped with basically everything that is needed to simulate a real lab setting, so that when you go out on placements you are already comfortable with how many of the lab techniques are performed.

JCU Graduate Arthit Singtothong

Placement experiences a helping hand for the future

For my placements, I was fortunate to work in the labs at St Andrews War Memorial Hospital and also Princess Alexandra Hospital, both located in Brisbane. Having these placement experiences helped me to be selected into the graduate program with Pathology Queensland, with my first post being at Ipswich hospital.

If you’re considering a career in Medical Laboratory Science, I personally think JCU is one of the best universities to do it at! The lecturers are all very helpful, knowledgeable, and approachable, plus the amount of practical experience we get is really valuable in helping you successfully start your career.

"The lab facilities at JCU are equipped with basically everything that is need to simulate a real lab settings, so that when you go out on placements, you are already comfortable with how many of the lab techniques are performed."

JCU Graduate Arthit Singtothong

Discover JCU Medical Science

Find out how studying medical science can equip you to improve patient care, prevent and cure diseases, and make a positive contribution to the health and wellbeing of communities.