Medical laboratory technologists and scientists conduct medical laboratory tests to provide information for diagnosing, treating and preventing disease. They work as part of a team with doctors, pathologists, scientists, technicians and laboratory assistants. They may be required to supervise the work of other technical officers and assistants and advise medical practitioners on the interpretation of tests.
Medical laboratory technologists assist doctors and pathologists in the diagnosis of diseases by performing all kinds of clinical laboratory tests. The three main lines of work are: diagnostic work; research work; and the preparation of serum and vaccines. The medical laboratory technologist does not work directly with patients. He or she forms part of a laboratory team, assisting a “professional officer” who has a degree. Some technologists identify disease-causing organisms, parasites, fungi, viruses and cancer cells, some do research and develop new laboratory techniques, while others teach at tertiary institutions. Medical laboratory technologists train and supervise laboratory aides and other technologists.
Medical laboratory technologists and scientists study blood and its diseases, count blood cells and examine blood slides with a microscope. They identify blood diseases such as anaemia and leukaemia and determine the suitability of blood for transfusion by cross-matching the blood with the patient and checking for the presence of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. They test blood for blood group antibodies that may cause disease in newborn babies and check the compatibility of bone marrow, kidney and other organs for transplantation.
Medical laboratory technologists also determine the chemical composition of specimens such as blood and urine, which is important in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes. They grow disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that are taken from a variety of clinical specimens. They prepare body tissues (taken from the body during surgery or post-mortem examinations) for microscopic examination by pathologists. They prepare body fluids for microscopic examination and diagnose abnormalities.
They isolate and examine genetic material (DNA and RNA) for alterations specific to genetic diseases and cancer, which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.
Some areas of specialisation include: