Laboratory scientists

I’m walking 640km across Jordan, and the days are counting down remarkably fast. The point of the trek is not only to challenge myself but to raise funds for @MSF_UK as I’ve written about extensively, start at number one and work on through to ten. If you believe in MSF’s work around the world or simply like my blog please head over to my just giving page and donate a few Pounds, Euro, Shillings or dollars to the cause.

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Answering all you laboratory scientist questions…. not really.

Most people think of lab techs, lab scientists, lab consultants, lab rats as being stuck in a  laboratory all day, doing repetitive tasks or doing crazy experiments. Not many people, perhaps not even lab folks realise that this job can take you around the world several times over, working in extreme conditions and limited resources. I simply love my work and MSF was a big part of getting me established on this path.

You can read about the amazing work MSF lab techs do here and here. With MSF I worked in Swaziland and Kyrgyzstan setting up new TB diagnostics which has led me onto the work I currently do. At first it was crazy, you are suddenly a supervisor in a new country working with diseases you don’t see at home in conditions which are often not ideal. Yet it is the most rewarding work.

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Graduating, with the floppy sorting hat

By training I have a PhD in molecular microbiology. So basically I work with invisible stuff – it’s just like magic, but less flashing lights, more machines which go “bing”. University prepared me for almost nothing! I will never forget working in the Mae Tao clinic, where we took of our shoes to enter the lab, often had no electricity and rewashed malaria slides.

Now I am a laboratory consultant specializing in implementation and systems building. I do a bit of everything from advising programs and assisting with policy development and funding to situational analysis to identify gaps and developing sustainable solutions which compliment country systems. I develop training materials, train trainers, fix equipment and whatever else might need doing.

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Yeah so what do you actually do?

I look at blood and poop and pee and sputum and pus and any other gross body fluid which comes out of your smelly diseased body – happy now?

labed-up

It’s not as gross as it sounds, honest. I usually get a sample sent to me in a sterile container, I have gloves and masks and bleach, if you ever invite me to dinner I will tell you all about it; in detail. Didn’t you want to know about the Bristol stool scale while eating chocolate cake?

stool

Why do we need lab scientists?

Well we do all the gross stuff that doctors just don’t understand. We take the samples wave our magic equipment and come out with numbers and answers which the doctors then use to diagnose to patient. Like solving a puzzle. We make sure that every test is run using controls and following an exact method so you can trust the results which come out of the lab are true and correct to the best of our abilities. It would be a disaster if incorrect results went out – to get serious for a second – consider being told you have HIV or TB or cancer, it’s a life changer. If we get that wrong, and the doctor is working with bad data it is life destroying to a patient. So we are dedicated to irradiating errors by having systems and checks in place.

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I would encourage anyone with a lab background, especially with infectious diseases and a travel bug to look into volunteering or working overseas with one of the many capable organisations. I gained so much from working with MSF I want to give back, which is why I am walking 640km of the Jordan trail to raise funds to give back so MSF can continue to help those most in need.

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