Joana – Biomedical scientist

Do you like the idea of working in medicine but not necessarily as a doctor? Do you like science and maths at school? Would you like to use your lab skills to improve public health? If you answered yes to all of these questions then look no further – this may be the job for you!

What attracted you to this job?

I have always wanted to help people and to have a job related to medicine and science. These two factors combined with naturally being extremely curious made me become a Biomedical Scientist specialising in Histopathology.

What does your typical day involve?

There are days when I am mainly supervising a certain area in the laboratory, meaning that I am responsible for the delivery of work and the management of it. But I also perform scientific and diagnostic testing.

The diagnostic routine technique in which human specimens are received, e.g. breast biopsy, involves writing up a description of it; processing it through different solvents; embedding it in wax so that it can be cut into very thin slices and mounted in glass slides followed by staining with solutions called Haematoxylin and Eosin (H&E). This will stain the cytoplasm of cells pink and it’s nucleus dark blue. At this stage specialised medical doctors – Histopathologists – will look at the slides to give a diagnosis.

I also perform complementary tests in cases when the diagnosis is not straight forward. These can be via the use of special stains (using different dyes and chemicals to identify different human tissue structures), to immunocytochemistry (using antibodies that target a specific antigen in the human tissue) or even molecular techniques (extracting and performing DNA tests to look for specific diseases).

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

The fact that every single thing I do will go towards helping someone and improving their health.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

They are all very proud of what I do.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance?

It’s great at the moment. I work 5 days a week, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5.15pm. Work hours are full and intense but once I leave the hospital that’s it! There’s no e-mail checking or working from home. Meaning I can do other activities every day!

How did you get to where you are today?

I did A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics. I then took a Bachelors and Honours degree in Biomedical Sciences specialising in Histo and Cytopathology, as well as an MSc in Forensic Sciences. I graduated in Portugal and to work in the UK I then had to get myself registered with the Health Professions Council.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your career path?

If you love what you do you’ll be a happier and more successful person!

If you are really interested go to the Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions Council websites to get more information.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

The starting salary is around £19,000 per year and can go up to more than £60,000 at management level.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Cooking! I love cooking! I do actually own a blog: The Memories of our Corks. I like running, swimming and group classes at the gym – and I get engaged in these activities nearly on a daily basis. I am also into ballroom and Latin American dance.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Definitely! We all have our moments. Once, while performing special stains – activity that involves dealing with many different chemicals and dyes to stain human tissue – I managed to pour one of the dyes I was using all over myself. My hair went from brown to red and my lab coat looked like it was covered in blood! Thankfully the dye wasn’t harmful!