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BETWEEN MEDICAL LABORATORY SCIENCE AND SCIENCE LABORATORY TECHNOLOGY
Adekoya Abimbola Julius
The need to strengthen the department of career guidance and counselling in our secondary schools came to the fore recently when I visited the Health Facilities Monitoring and Accreditation Agency (HEFAMAA) office in the Ministry of Health at Alausa Ikeja. There was a graduate of Science Laboratory Technology who could not justify why she should man a medical laboratory facility. It was embarrassing when she could not differentiate between the course she studied for four years in the University and a related course.
Could it be that she was ignorant or she was indeed not taught in school?
This comparative study of Medical Laboratory Science which seems to be a fraternal twin brother of Science Laboratory Technology will drive home the differences in the scopes and the prospects of the two courses despite the word ‘Laboratory’ that is common to the two. And the students seeking for admission should take note of these differences before they fill their next JAMB forms.
The stand of the Lagos State Ministry of Health is that the requirement for a person to work in the medical laboratory facility is to be a member of Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria as it was in the Federal Government official Gazette of 2003 Act No II as either Medical Laboratory Scientist or a Technician or an Assistant.
A Medical Laboratory Scientist is trained to carry out laboratory tests on human samples to help clinicians (Doctors) diagnose illness and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. This work is vital to the well-being of patients because Doctors treat them on the basis of these results. While a Science Laboratory Technologist is responsible for laboratory based tasks which include sampling, testing, measuring, recording and analysing results in biological, chemical, physical and life sciences. He also provides all the required technological support to enable the laboratory to function effectively whilst adhering to correct procedures, health and safety guidelines.
Medical Laboratory Science is studied as a five year course in University under the regulation of Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria for a bachelor degree while the Science Laboratory Technology is studied in the polytechnic for two years (to obtain OND) or with additional two years (to obtain HND) or four years in the university for a bachelor degree.
A Medical Laboratory Scientist specialises in one of the following areas: Medical microbiology (identification of microorganism causing disease and their antibiotics treatment), clinical chemistry (the chemical analysis of body fluids), blood transfusion science (determination of donor unit compatibility and investigations into group antigens and antibodies, Hematology (morphology and physiology of blood). Histopathology (examination of tissue samples), Cytology (analysis of cellular materials, immunology (understanding the immune system) and virology (identification of viruses).
The typical work activities of the Medical Laboratory Scientists include testing human samples, such as blood, tissue, urine, cerebrospinal and facial material for various chemical constituents, analysis, cultures growth from samples and identifying blood group.
The functions of a Science Laboratory Technologist are viz: to perform laboratory tests in order to produce reliable and precise data to support scientific investigations. To prepare specimens and samples. To construct, maintain and operate standard laboratory equipment for example centrifuges, titrators, pipetting machine and PH meters. To ensure that the laboratory is well – stocked and resourced. To demonstrate practical procedures in Colleges. To conduct search on identified topics relevant to the research.
Increasing numbers of Medical Laboratory Scientists are working in pathology and research laboratories in private and public sector. Other areas include National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS), Medical Research Council (MRC), Veterinary Services, Universities, some manufacturing firm (especially those producing pharmaceuticals products), forensic laboratories, government agencies like HEFAMAA, NACA, etc. While Science Laboratory Technologists are employed in the laboratories of pharmaceutical industries, food manufacturing companies, companies that manufacture plastic, metal, oil, cosmetics, food and textiles. Large city hospitals to assists in defined pieces of research.
Government departments (such as agriculture, health, defence and food) employ Science Laboratory Technologist to assist with laboratories (such as public health, police, forensic science services, environmental and conservation). Water companies require Science Laboratory Technologist to assist with sampling and testing of water, gas and electricity companies will also be involved in scientific analysis, testing and sampling. Educational institutions (such as secondary schools and higher colleges) employ them in their laboratories.
The students of science laboratory technology were not alone in this misconception but their lecturers who post them to medical laboratories facilities for industrial training giving them the false impression that they have a role to play in the medical laboratory.
In conclusion, the parents should guide their children who aspire to be a proud owner of a medical laboratory facility in future to know which course to put in for because those that did Science Laboratory Technology in error still went back to study Medical Laboratory Science. The employers of labour should take note of these differences to avoid any embarrassment from the HEFAMAA, the health watchdog of Lagos State, the Ministry of Health and the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN)
Lastly, it is pertinent to known that there is no rivalry between these two noble professions; it is just a matter of choice and interest. The fact remains that only a member of the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria is eligible to work or man a medical laboratory facility.
Adekoya writes from Lagos.