Associate Practitioner - I turn biopsies into slides so pathologists can help doctors diagnose and treat patients
Education:Ribston Hall High School 1990-1995, Central Technology College 1995-1997, UWIC 2010-2012
Qualifications:8 GCSE's (C-E) Advanced GNVQ Science, HNC Biomedical Science
Work History:Cellular Pathology & Biochemistry Gloucester Royal Hospital, Specimen reception & Cellular Pathology University Hospital of Wales
Associate Pratitioner Healthcare Scientist
Oral Pathology at University Dental Hospital in Cardiff. We work very closely with the Dental School at Cardiff University and as such this makes us the only teaching dental hospital of it’s kind in Wales. If you want to read a bit more about the specialist lab I work in I’ve recently written a small article 50_BS_MyLab
I turn a biopsy into a slide to help consultants diagnose, treat and manage a patients condidtion
I’ve been an Associate Practitioner Healthcare Scientist for jst over 4 years in Cellular Pathology. I started in University Hospital of Wales where I was for 2 years then due to childcare I had to leave my job and leave my degree to take care of my then young family. I was very fortunate to come across a post here in Oral Pathology at the University Dental Hospital where I’ve been for just over 2 and half years. I love it here and I love the people I work with. As it’s such a specialist lab I work with a Biomedical Scientist in Cellular Pathology and I work with a Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology, and after that it’s just 3 consultant pathologist. So just the 6 of us running a specialist service that covers South East Wales and the only one of it’s kind in Wales. I feel it’s something to be really pround to be a part of.
As it’s such a small specialist lab I’ve had the opportunity to attend theatre for the day, I’ve been to an MDT meeting, this is where all the specialists meet up to discuss patients and their diagnosis, and then they decide the next course of action and how to manage or treat the patient. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to become a STEM ambassador and write a couple articles. I’m one very lucky worker.
I’d love to have the oppotunity to complete my degree so I can also become a Biomedical Scientist however it’s proving difficult so some of my time now is focused on being a STEM Ambassador. There will be a shortage of pathologists in a few years and as 70-80% of a patients diagnosis involve pathology then that’s quite a serious state of affairs so I try to showcase what we do in pathology when I organise these STEM visits as it’s something I really feel strongly about.
A few pics of what I’ve done…
My Typical Day
Through a number of processes in the lab I turn a biopsy into a slide to issue to the pathologists so they can produce a report on which the consultants then diagnose, manage or treat a patient
Firstly we embed the biopsies that have come off the machine following overnight processing. Overnight processing is where free water is removed from tissue and replaced by wax, this is done by immersing the tissue in various solvents. First the tissue sits in formalin, this just fixes the tissue in a life like state so it doesn’t start to decompose. Then the tissue goes through alcohols this is because alcohol dehydrates things so it’s the alcohol that removes the free water. Next the tissue goes into xylene, this is because xylene is miscible with both alcohol and the wax which is the last step of tissue processing.
Embedding is where the tissue is put into a small mould and encased in wax, this is done so we can then cut it to produce slides, if you think about it we can have small biopsies that are only 1mm and then tissue processing can shrink tissue by a third so we need something substantial to “hold” the tissue.
Next we cut really thin sections on a machine called a microtome. the sections are 4microns thin. There are 1000 microns in 1mm so we are dealing with really thin pieces of tissue (about a 10th thinner than a strand of hair). When we have cut a ribbon of tissue we float it on warm water this irons out any wrinkles that may appear in the wax section we have just cut and also it makes the section easier to pick up on a slide. When we have produced a section of tissue on a slide then it is ready to be stained.
Our basic go to stain is H&E (Haematoxylin and Eosin), it produces a pink and purple section for the pathologists to look at under the microscope. The nucleus of a cell stains purple and the cytoplasm stains pink. Lastly we check patient details again before the cases go out to the pathologists. The pathologists can see if surgeons have taken enough tissue away in cancer cases to make sure they didn’t leave any behind, this is what we call clear margins. They also look at small biopsies like polyps and papillomas, there are some conditions that are a warning sign for cancer so the pathologists diagnose these and the clinic know to monitor that patients condition to make sure that if it does become malignant then we can act on it straight away and be able to provide a good prognosis.
The last thing we do in the day is specimen dissection where the pathologists will describe the biopsy and take representative pieces to the process over night and it’s these biopsies that will be embedded in the morning and the cycle starts over again. But no two days are the same as we always see such a variety of cases.
How I got into this job
I went to have a look around a pathology lab and really loved what I saw, I then started to work voluntary as a lab assistant in Histology and when a paid job came along in Biochemistry I moved departments but still worked as a Lab assistant. I've moved around and progessed since then really!
I started as a Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) in Histology, I had (only just though) GCSE’s and my GNVQ in Science however I was working volutary so I think the few qualifications I had didn’t really matter that much back then. I worked volutary for about 9 months and decided that for me to carry on in Histology I needed to go to University to an accredited Biomedical Science degree. Back then (I was 19, so nearly 20 years ago) university wasn’t for me, I couldn’t understand how I needed to know the background knowledge when I had already worked in the lab and couldn’t see this knowledge put to use.
I found myself back in the lab working as an MLA. After a few months a permanent paid post came up in Biochemistry so I moved departments. I worked in Biochemistry for about 3 years, due to the hours I worked I was fortunate enough to take on a few extra duties that I wouldn’t have even known about if I’d worked 9-5. I worked into early evening and gained so much knowledge about becoming a qualified Biomedical Scientist (BMS) that it just confirmed that I knew I was in the right career I just had to wait for the right time to pursue it.
After 3 years in Biochemistry I decided to move to Cardiff and again worked as an MLA but this time because I was in the biggest teaching hospital in Wales I had so many more opportunities to learn so much more. I went on rotation around to blood bank, haematology, and also Antenatal Screening Wales, and I was lucky enough that after a few years I started to go to University to do my accredited Biomedical Science degree. I felt I’d learnt enough in the job to give me that enuthsiasm and I’d also matured a lot and realised that you need the background knowledge to help troubleshoot. If machines are running well then it’s fine however a lot of the time you need to recognise when something doesn’t look right and then you need the knowledge to know what to do and how to correct the problem.
Due to me having a family I didn’t finish my degree I left University with my HNC in Biomedical Science which meant that I could progress slightly to become an Associate Pratitioner. I now currently work as one in Oral Pathology and Microbiology at the University Dental Hospital in Cardiff. Due to our close relationship with the School of Dentistry at Cardiff University we can offer teaching, training and specialist services that make us the only teaching dental unit of it’s kind in Wales and only one of a few in the UK. I get to see some weird and gory things but I love what I do.
What's the best thing you've ever done in your career?
I've just been awarded a bursary where there is only one person awarded every year. Maybe not much to some but means a lot to me.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in the same career as you?
If you're looking at Biomedical Science then you need to do an IBMS accredited degree in Biomedical Science, not every university offers an accredited degree.
What do you see as your next step in your career?
As I've only completed my HNC in Biomedical Science I'd like to complete my degree.
What other sorts of jobs can you do with your qualifications?
As I'm only a junior member of staff then it would be junior roles in other labs, however there are many private and industry labs that I could go to with the qualification I have, and then maybe work my way up the career path.
What's the best part of your current job?
I really enjoy specimen dissection because this is where we get to have a look at what we're dealing with.
What don't you like about your current job?
I certainly don't enjoy specimen disposal, however it's one of those jobs that has to be done and luckily only gets done every few months (Phew!!!)