Many of us have been required to give our blood to the gentle, yet threatening nurse as she coo’s us into putting our arm out to her. We hurry out of the room, jump in the car and speed away – awaiting the doctors call in a day or two. Have you ever wondered where your blood goes and who tests it to get the most accurate results and how they actually get those results?
We met up with Adrian Coetzee, a Bio-Medical Technologist at Groote Schuur Hospital. He works for the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service. We were well informed by the end of our chat. He only works the night shift and experiences the thrill that the emergency chaos the night time brings. He has to test the blood of those rushed into hospital to see if they have any infections, diseases or whatever else the doctors may be looking for. He needs to be very quick but extremely accurate. Living life on the edge, huh.
What would your day look like?
|Time of Day||Activity||Comments|
|17:00||Wake up||Stumble. Coffee Machine. YouTube.|
|18:00||Showered and ready||I’m finally feeling more human.|
|Have “breakfast” and take the leftovers to work.|
|19:30||Head to work||No traffic! I feel so sorry for the people heading the opposite direction.|
|20:00||Get to work.||Do the handover. Get my lab coat, gloves and goggles. Find out what’s happening and if there are any trouble patients or situations to be taken care of.|
|20:00 – 24:00||On my feet. Very standard and normal lab work.||I’m on my feet a lot. It’s very physical (standing).|
|00:00 – 03:00||Quality control. Specific tests/procedures for surgeries the next day. Clean up equipment.||Very sequential work.|
|03:00 – 06:00||Usually the quietest time.||Sit. Eat. Chat. Watch T.V. Read a book.|
|06:00 – 08:00||Hospital starts to wake up. Routine work begins again.||Feeling zombie-esque. But you know its the last stretch so you go on auto pilot.|
|08:00||Handover to day staff.||Walk out the door and drive AGAINST traffic. Best feeling.|
|08:30||Have a quick, light meal.||Not particularly tired, but I know my body needs it.|
|09:00 -10:00||In bed, winding down.||Time to sleep.|
|13:00||Wake up now if I’m not working evening shift.||I need to adapt my sleeping patterns so that I sleep at night again.|
|17:00||Wake up now if I’m working.|
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I could say the noble thing – I enjoy saving lives, I enjoy the pride. That is definitely part of the answer. Another part is that I like the technical, very precise nature of the work. That side of my work is a part of my nature. I’m a very detailed person.
I really enjoy the frenzied nature of the evening shift. I work 12 hours a night, from 20:00 until 08:00 the next morning. Not everyone enjoys the evening shifts.
Specifically to my night time shift arrangement – I like having as much time off as I do. I never have to work during the day and I only work 11 nights a month. According to the labour law that’s what I need to do to get paid the same salary as someone who works 9-5.
What do you enjoy least about what you do?
The limitations that are put on you. Because you’re working with human lives any mistake you make can kill someone or cause harm. There’s a lot of legal framework that you have to stay inside of. Every little thing that you do, that may seem insignificant, needs to be recorded. Everything that you do can come back to you. We’re human and we all make mistakes but the result of that in this industry is that you’re constantly having people’s lives in your hands, which doesn’t always end up well.
If your results are wrong, do they hold you responsible?
Yes, I would get a disciplinary hearing. Depending on the outcome of my incorrect results, that will determine the nature of my charge. You can be held responsible for a patient’s death. Some technologists have hundreds of hearings a year.
What did you study?
I studied a National Diploma of Biomedical Technology at CPUT. I just recently completed my BTech, which is an extra year to increase my qualification level. The national diploma that I completed has fallen away, we were the last group to have it. The Bachelors of Health Science (BHS) is the new equivalent.
Are there specific specialisations?
We test everything for medical purposes. From screening for drug abuse to basic metabolic markers. The tests we do vary from urine, faeces, bone, tissue – there are a whole bunch of different specialisations.
(You don’t study towards a specific specialisation, you choose it when you choose a job in a specific lab.)
Did you choose blood as a specialisation?
I was offered a post in the national health lab service, for virology,
ith their HIV laboratory. Then at the last minute I heard about this job at the blood service and I went for it. It was something that I knew less about and sounded more interesting to pursue.
Did they train you once you came on board?
As part of your qualification you need to do a year internship. You are given materials for self-study and you’re gaining experience during your internship year. At the end of it you write a board exam. If there’s new technology released, your company would send you for training or do in-house training on it.
What type of person would be well suited for this?
- You have to be very technical – that is the nature of what we do.
- You need to be very honest – if you made a mistake, own up to it.
- You need to be a person of integrity – this is very important because you are dealing with human lives and there is always temptation to take a short cut, to omit something or do something one way or another that may seem irrelevant and insignificant now but can lead to real harm. You need to be the kind of person that will still stop at stop streets even when world has ended and no one else was on the roads.
- I would ideally say take pride in your work.
What subjects did you do at school?
I did Maths, Biology, Physical Science, English, Afrikaans and History.
Biology, Physical Science and Maths is required to study this at CPUT.
How long have you been in your current position?
I’ve been here for three years including my internship year.
What is the job opportunity like?
They sort of hunt us out at the end of our final year. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t get at least one job offer on the table when they graduated. Everyone I know has a job now, because we’re groomed into a very specific industry. It’s also a relatively international degree. I know of people who work in New Zealand and Saudi. Strangely enough we have tighter regulations than other countries. We have CPD points and have to keep up with the latest technologies, other countries don’t have to do any of that.
What would your next step be if you want to climb the ladder?
I know a lot of people stay in this position and settle into their jobs for the rest of their lives. That’s not my cup of tea. My next step would be an academic career or I could sub specialize in quality control – the management side or the development side. Or I can totally break away from the medical laboratories and go more into the research and scientific side of things. I’d have to study more since I’d need a master’s degree.
Do you have advice for someone who wants to pursue this career?
Job shadow and get a good feel for it. Accept that you’re not going to become wealthy and live a glam life. If you want a title and to live luxuriously, become a doctor. But then you have crazy shifts. So you need to decide what you REALLY want from life.
What is the starting salary?
I’d say you can expect R12 000 – R15 000, but that varies. As an intern you’d get closer to R9000. Various companies have various benefits and progression packages. They have medical aid, retirement benefits etc. So all of those benefits are added on to your salary, over and above it. In the end, it’s not too bad.
What is the earning potential?
It depends on your drive and what you do with it. If you stay in the lab, you’ll probably end up with about R30 000 and that’s with decades of experience. If you go into quality control or management, you’ll start moving up in the company and you could earn around R60 000. With housing, travel allowance and company car excluded. Do you have any quirky advice for scholars?
You better like things that are disgusting. In others words, embrace disgusting.
This career is very specialized so definitely go do some job shadowing before you definitely decide to do it. Contact us and we’ll see if Adrian is up for some job shadowing ☺