17 01 2023

If you don't find them behind the microscope, you will find them fiddling with sample bottles, preparing slides, or tenderly nurturing organisms from a couple to a colony. The laboratory scientists don't do all this work for naught. Every time they report their macroscopic and microscopic findings, they are aiding a physician to confirm or rule out a diagnosis, to determine if a patient is fit enough for a procedure or a treatment, and/or to monitor disease progression or a healing process.

Thus, as with other fields in healthcare, Medical laboratory science is broken down into specialties to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the execution of their tasks. The four main specialties of this field are highlighted below:

  • Haematology: If you thought blood when you saw "haem", then you thought correctly. Laboratory scientists in this specialty conduct tests on blood samples to assess the quantity and quality of different blood cells, detect diseases and disorders of the blood (e.g. anemia) and determine blood groups and genotypes. They also carry out tests to ensure that donated blood is suitable for transfusion.

  • Microbiology: This branch of Medical laboratory science performs tests on blood, body fluids (urine, pus, etc.), and/or tissue samples to detect the presence of microorganisms such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and/or viruses.

  • Chemical Pathology: Also known as Clinical chemistry or Clinical biochemistry. The role of the scientists in this area is to determine the presence and quantity of chemical substances (hormones, electrolytes, products of metabolism, etc.) in the blood, urine, and other body fluids to aid the physician in diagnosing a variety of conditions (Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, etc.) and to ascertain the functional status of organs (liver, kidneys).

  • Histopathology: The scientists in this specialty prepare and study body tissues (such as biopsy specimens) to detect anomalies. To do this, the specialists are trained to understand the structure and composition of cells and their organization into various organs so that they can tell when there is a variation from normal (as in cancers).

It is important that the big four in laboratory science are not confused with the subspecialties in Pathology, a branch of Medicine. While the scientists in the aforementioned fields focus on dealing with the technical aspects of the work (preparing slides, culturing organisms, etc.), the Pathologists (Haematologists, Chemical Pathologists, Medical microbiologists, and Histopathologists) are medical doctors trained to interpret the work done by the scientists and proffer sound diagnoses. Together with the clinicians, they work to ensure that patients have the best possible outcome.

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