Most people don’t know me. Others despise me. Majority ignore me. I feel neglected. Perhaps it is because all I do when I get in contact with a patient is asking them for stool, urine or sputum samples. At best I draw blood from them. Majority think all I do is sitting on a stool looking at a stool sample. This is all because I am in one of the least recognized health professions. My profession is like the rudder that steers a ship. It is not necessarily seen, but it does the most important work. Allow me talk about myself just today, because I am rarely noticed.
Have you ever wondered who approves blood for transfusion into that patient lying desperately in Intensive Care Unit or in the ward? I obtain blood from donors. I group it to know and document its identity. I screen it for infectious agents such as HIV, Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus and Treponema pallidum (the cause of syphilis) among others. I do this to ensure the infections are not passed on to the recipient of the donated blood. I go ahead to cross match the donor’s blood with the targeted recipients serum to ensure a transfusion reaction does not occur when the patient is transfused with the blood. Behold, I prepare individual blood components such as packed red blood cells and fresh frozen plasma amongst others. Simply, blood transfusion is my responsibility.
I do microbiology too. I grow the bacteria in the sample from an infected patient in the laboratory to help me identify what is ailing the patient. Mind you, the risk of me getting infected increases when I grow the micro-organisms in the laboratory. But I have to take the risk in order to help the already sickly patient. And if you thought I do not contribute into your treatment, you should know that I do antibiotic susceptibility testing. That is, I test which amongst available drugs can destroy or at least inhibit the identified microorganism that is causing the disease. This guides the doctor in deciding what drug can best treat you. And before I forget, I do therapeutic drug monitoring in the patient’s blood too to ensure drugs treat the patient while causing no harm.
You have heard them talk about cancer screening and diagnosis? I test for levels of tumor markers in the patients’ blood to screen for cancer. When a swab or that piece of tissue cut from the patient’s body, it is brought in my “restricted-entry room”. I do histopathology and cytopathology to diagnose the patient. After that, before the cancer patient receives chemotherapy or radiotherapy, I do analyze his/her blood to guide the doctor accordingly.
I do a wide range of clinical chemistry tests to assess the functioning of your kidney, liver and heart among others when you visit the hospital. I estimate the number of your blood cells. Hematology is my sector. Hormonal profiles are my responsibility too. I mean I do fertility testing and thyroid function tests among others.
Ever heard of DNA or RNA? I extract it from specimens brought to the lab, amplify and identify it to aid in diagnosis. Molecular diagnostics is my newest technology. I use it to diagnose infections, cancer and genetic disorders just to name a few.
Paternity testing too is my role. I use science and technology to determine whether the putative father is the biological father. Therefore, forensic science is my field. Using hair, blood, saliva etc. recovered at the crime scene, I can use science to link it to the suspect. Therefore, I aid in administration of justice.
Parasitology is the main reason I request for your stool sample. It is the reason I keep looking into the microscope. Don’t ask me what I do on it before I look at it in the microscope. Just know from it I can tell which worm or protozoa invaded your gastrointestinal tract probably causing the diarrhea. Malaria diagnosis from your blood sample is amongst other parasitological tests I do on your blood.
Immunology too cannot be left out since it is amongst my core subjects. I use the science for diagnosis of HIV and other viral infections. Cancer diagnosis is also aided by immunology.
Finally, I am involved in vaccine development too. Medical research cannot be complete without my input. Yes, medicine without laboratory is like witchcraft.
Yet when they mention medical laboratory, they only discuss about the costly machines that are used in performing the testing, rarely do they mention who runs them. Yes, I am poorly paid to run machines worth millions. But all in all, I do my best to serve the patients with quality and reliable laboratory results, maintain the equipment and ensure my safety. I am a medical laboratory scientist. I scored an A, struggled with the studies and lab practical to serve you better. But all I have gotten in return is neglect.
I rarely talk, but the oppression has compelled me to perhaps make a few requests to Kenya. As statehouse hosts the health summit, take the opportunity to thank the national parliament of Kenya for hearing my petition and committing to amend the law that regulates my profession to recognize graduates and make it up to date. For those who do not know, I am regulated by the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Act, 1999 also known as Cap253A. That said, I humbly request parliament to fast track the amendment process.
Secondly, I request the ministry of health to offer me paid internship just as it does to graduate nurses, doctors, pharmacists and nurses. I believe I deserve it.
Third, I urge all the 47 county governments and other employers to implement the revised schemes of service for medical laboratory personnel and recruit me at job group K. Kindly recognize that I am a medical laboratory scientist and pay me accordingly.
BSc. Medical Laboratory Science and Technology,
University of Nairobi