Week 2: Lab observations and Data handling

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Lab observations: Not a ‘must-do’ part of the placement, but for me it was exactly this! As someone hoping to go onto lab work I couldn’t wait to gain some experience and snapped up the opportunity straight away! I spent the day (9:30 – 5:30) in the Biochemistry lab at K&C Hospital. I was purely observing (I don’t have qualifications that allow me to touch anything unfortunately!) yet at the end of the day my head felt close to exploding with everything that I had learned. It was quite different to what I’d expected and I think completely different to what the general public, without an interest in science, would imagine. The level of automation is high and I was told in fact even higher at the William Harvey Hospital where it’s fully automated. I spent time in the reception area first where the samples are received, bar coded and entered into the hospital’s system. The arrival of new samples was continuous and endless and I gained an appreciation of the importance of the organisation skills of the staff. If new samples were labelled Urgent they have to drop everything else they are doing and process these straight away, in order to hit their 1 hour turn around limit. In fact, samples that come from A&E bypass the reception and travel, via a shoot in the ceiling, straight to the lab where they can be labelled and tested immediately. Though there are peaks and troughs throughout the day the workload is endless and 24/7, with no tolerance for error. Upon arriving in the lab the samples are checked with their paperwork again and then positioned in the correct place for their required tests. Some samples are transported straight to William Harvey as they require tests not carried out in K&C. Once inputted into the correct analyser results appear on the computer system. If results are normal they are automatically authorised and sent back to the ward/GP/patient. However, if results fall outside of the normal range they must be authorised by one of the Biomedical Scientists within the lab. This is so that they can see if the result is reasonable or not for that patient, and it is this skill that differentiates the Assistant Healthcare Staff and the registered Biomedical Scientists. The job is a constant rotation of receiving samples, analysing them, receiving results, releasing results and maintenance of the machines whilst making sure the priorities are always correct.

Although the majority of the tests are automated there are multiple ones that are completed manually via the staff, when needed. For example, when I was there, a sample for a ‘sweat test’ was sent over and needed to be analysed. (For those not from a scientific background the sweat test is gold standard for diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis. In a CF positive patient the sweat will contain higher than normal levels of chloride.) The test was fiddly to carry out and required precision from a Biomedical Scientist in the lab. It was great to watch and understand the process, followed by the calculations used to determine the amount of chloride present. Thankfully the result was within the normal range and results were sent back on the same day to confirm a negative result. I also spent a little bit of time in the blood bank/transfusions lab and the blood analysis side. The day as a whole was fantastic and I think really emphasises the difference between learning through experience and learning through a textbook. Whilst I am really enjoying my Uni course I think that more practical work/experience of the real world would be extremely beneficial. It was suggested that I could volunteer at the Hospital for the remainder of my course, so this is something I will be sorting out in the near future hopefully! So overall a brilliant day and great experience.

After meeting separately with both Dr Strutt and Dr Doulton to discuss the worked I’d produced, which they were pleased with (thank god!), it was onto the next stage; sorting and selection of relevant data from that collected by the ward staff. This consisted of staring at spreadsheets for many hours. But it really wasn’t as bad as it sounds! Seeing the progression from hundreds of patients and all their data to the ones that compromised our group of interest was very satisfying.

I will be working on this until I meet with Dr Doulton again on Wednesday where I will be sitting in on an Advanced Kidney Care Clinic and a short X-ray session. Looking forward to this and will let you know how it goes in my next blog!

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