Written By

Nicolette Ward


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

3 March 2022

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The wonders under the microscope

Growing up in the outback town of Winton in Central Queensland, graduating Medical Laboratory Science student Isabel Jackson developed a curiosity for science early in life that has found its perfect fit in the medical lab.

“I’ve always loved science, ever since I was little. I remember at the age of around six or seven years old, I was gifted a science kit for Christmas and it had a huge impact on me. I used to venture outdoors regularly and catch bugs so I could put them under the toy microscope I’d been given,” Isabel says.

“So for me, studying medical laboratory science was a natural fit. I absolutely loved doing all the specialised subjects, such as histology [the microscopic structure of tissues], cytology [microscopic examination of cells] and advanced haematology [study of the blood]. The varying colours and cellular structures of some of the tissue samples we get to look at are really amazing!

“I’ve also really enjoyed some of the more unusual specimens we came across in our microbiology subjects where you have to carry out a high level of detective work, consistently analyse and think critically. Medical laboratory science is a field where you never stop learning, and I really love that aspect to it.”

Isabella in an on-campus lab.

Supplied by Isabella Jackson.

Placements and on-campus lab facilities

Fourth year is when med lab science students complete their placements, and thanks to the up-to-date laboratory and science facilities available for students at JCU, Isabel says she felt confident and well-prepared.

“We get to do a lot of practical components of our studies at the JCU lab facilities which have up-to-date technology, allowing you to practise in a setting similar to that of a real laboratory. For our final year, we spend around 15 hours, if not more, in the labs on campus each week. Having this hands-on experience makes a huge difference when you go out on placement as you are already familiar with a large range of techniques and equipment in the lab,” she says.

Having just completed all of her placements, Isabel says she was enjoying it so much that she never wanted it to end.

“On my last day of placement at Townsville University Hospital, I was genuinely upset as I didn’t want it to end!  I also really enjoyed my placement in Cairns for six weeks at the Mater Hospital, working with Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology. Because it's a smaller lab you get to work across all of disciplines, including microbiology, biochemistry, haematology, and transfusion. You also get the opportunity to see a bigger picture of the patient as you are analysing the results of the individual across a broader range of tests and disciplines.”

Isabel’s enthusiasm on placement was so contagious that she was offered a job not long after she had finished.

“Whilst I was on my second placement block, I was contacted by the head of the molecular department at Townsville University Hospital who I met on my first placement and offered a position there. The job will involve a lot of PCR [Polymerase Chain Reaction] testing, including preparing and analysing COVID swabs.”

Isabella next to the JCU sign on the Bebegu Yumba Campus.

Supplied by Isabella Jackson.

Success for rural graduate pathology program

A passion for rural and remote healthcare resulted in Isabel also applying for a position with Pathology Queensland’s newly launched Rural Graduate program, which she was successful in being accepted into. The rural graduate program is a two-year multidisciplinary training program for graduate scientists, compared to the general graduate program which is a one-year program.

“For the first time this year, Pathology Queensland offered a rural graduate program in addition to their usual general program, and I was successful in getting one of the five positions offered.”

“For my first rotation I’ll be at Townsville University Hospital and then after that, I will be sent to a variety of rural labs. I’m really looking forward to working in the smaller, rural labs because it enables you to be more resourceful and efficient, as there isn’t the same level of instrumentation and equipment that you would find in larger labs.

“I believe working in this kind of environment will really help with my skills development and allow me to work across a broader scope of medical science, which is what drew me towards applying for the rural program.

“The experiences I have at JCU have definitely ignited a sense of excitement for my looming career in medical laboratory science.”

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