About Medical Science

WHAT IS A MEDICAL SCIENTIST?
Medical scientists perform medical laboratory tests on blood, other body fluids and tissues to assist clinicians in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Medical scientists get results!

WHERE DO MEDICAL SCIENTISTS WORK?
Medical scientists work in hospital laboratories, private pathology laboratories, State Health laboratories and Universities. In larger hospitals and private laboratories, medical scientists usually specialise in the disciplines below.

DISCIPLINES
Medical Laboratory Science in Australia comprises nine distinct professional disciplines:

  • Anatomical pathology
  • Microbiology
  • Cytology
  • Blood transfusion
  • Immunology
  • Haematology
  • Clinical biochemistry
  • Virology
  • Genetics and Molecular pathology

DESCRIPTIONS OF DISCIPLINES

Anatomical pathology
Examination of the body cells and tissues to establish the presence or absence of disease.

In anatomical pathology, medical scientists prepare tissues for light or electron microscopy, to detect abnormalities that may indicate cancer or other diseases of tissue. The tissues may be obtained by biopsy of abnormal tissue such as a breast lump or mole from an operating theatre, or from autopsy material to determine the cause of death. The tissues are specially processed to allow very thin sections (3µm) to be prepared. These sections are mounted on glass slides and stained to allow various structures to be revealed when examined microscopically.

Cytology
Study of cells

Medical scientists in cytology are interested in individual abnormal cells that are shed from tissues. One of the more publicised areas of their work is the Papanicolaou smear test (Pap Screen), which is used in the early detection of cancer of the cervix. After the sample has been collected onto a microscope slide, they are responsible for staining it and screening for abnormal cells.

Immunology
A study of host responses to infection, malignancy and tissue damage.

An immunologist would diagnose, or assist in the diagnosis of, bacterial viral and fungal diseases, autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), hypersensitivity reactions (e.g. asthma), cancer (e.g. leukaemia) or immunological deficiencies in the patient.

Clinical biochemistry
Analysis of cells, blood and other body fluids for chemical, biochemical and hormonal components to identify disease or determine the effectiveness of a treatment regime.

Medical scientists perform chemical analyses on body fluids to determine the presence of abnormal levels of the chemicals. The most commonly performed tests are those on blood serum which are used to assess the function of the liver, kidneys and heart.

Microbiology
Identification of micro organisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites which cause infection, and testing for effective antibiotics.

The organisms may be isolated from body fluids, tissues and infected sites and can include bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. The identification techniques include growing the organisms in cultures, microscopic examination, immunoassays and biochemical tests.

Blood transfusion
Laboratory testing of recipient blood and donor blood to ensure compatible and safe transfusion.

Medical scientists in blood transfusion or immunohaematology, as it is sometimes known, are responsible for the testing of blood groups and compatibility of donor blood, prior to transfusion. These specialists may work in a Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, where the blood is collected from donors, or in a hospital or private medical laboratory cross-matching donor blood for patients who require blood transfusions.

Haematology
Diseases and abnormalities of blood and bone marrow.

Haematology medical scientists use automated instruments to count the numbers of red cells, white cells and platelets and then look at a thin film of the cells under a microscope. Using information from both the red and white cell counts and their microscopic appearance, they are able to identify various types of anaemia, and differentiate leukaemia from infections. They also count platelets, the small cells involved with blood clotting, and perform tests to determine the levels of the various proteins that interact to clot blood.

Virology
Study of the consequences of viral infections.

A scientist in a virology laboratory would perform assays to detect the virus in host tissues or in cells used to isolate the virus from a host. These assays might detect viral nucleic acid or may involve immunological assays to detect viral proteins. A virologist might also perform a variety of serological tests in order to detect specific antibodies produced in response by a host to a viral infection. More than 200 viruses have been identified as capable of causing disease in humans.

Genetics and Molecular pathology
Molecular pathology is a rapidly expanding area which is focused on the study and diagnosis of disease through the examination of molecules within organs, tissues or bodily fluids.

It is multi-disciplinary in nature and shares some aspects of practice with both anatomic pathology and clinical pathology, molecular biology, biochemistry, proteomics and genetics, and is sometimes considered a "crossover" discipline. It focuses mainly on the sub-microscopic aspects of disease.

TRAINING
The academic training for medical scientists is a three or four year Bachelor degree in which the majors include specialised medical laboratory science subjects. In the final year, most students then specialise in one or more medical laboratory science disciplines.

ENTRANCE REQUIREMENTS
Entry to the first year of the course requires the successful completion of a Year 12 course of study. The prerequisites vary from state to state but include English, Science and Mathematics subjects. Applicants should consult the handbook of the tertiary institution to determine their particular requirements.

MEMBERSHIP OF A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION
The Australian Institute of Medical Scientists is the professional association representing medical scientists working in hospitals and private medical laboratories in Australia.

The objectives of the Institute are:

  • to promote, support and further advance the character, status and interests of medical scientists;
  • to promote, advance and develop scientific knowledge by means of lectures, demonstrations, discussions, debates in all branches of medical science;
  • to publish a scientific journal on subjects of interest and importance to the Institute;
  • to confer postgraduate Fellowship diplomas on members who have achieved a high level of academic excellence;
  • to maintain a register of members; and
  • to subscribe to and communicate with other scientific and research societies throughout the world.

Graduates of AIMS accredited degree courses are admitted to the Australian Institute of Medical Scientists as Graduate members and after two years postgraduate professional medical laboratory experience are eligible to become Members of the Institute.

AIMS ACCREDITED COURSES
A list of all degrees that are accredited by AIMS can be view by clicking here

Upon completion of an AIMS accredited degree, Graduates are entitled to be called Medical Scientists.