Students standing in a group facing the camera

From lecture theatres to pathology labs

The impact Brighton and Worthing hospital lab tours had on our Biomedical Science students. 

Simonne Weeks along with students Marianna Valouma and Roma Sujith, share insights from a recent pathology lab tour. 

The combination of manual work and advanced diagnostic technology paints a vivid picture of the clinical setting. The trio discusses their ‘aha’ moments, where theoretical concepts merge with real-world applications, establishing a connection between lectures and the practical learning in the lab. They outline how their biomedical science modules correlate between seemingly disparate topics. 

As the students share their experiences of the captivating environment of the various pathology departments, the interview provides invaluable advice from lab professionals. It emphasises the importance of placements for IBMS registration, explores the rewarding nature of the diagnostic process. This journey, where theory meets practice, brings the world of biomedical science to life through Marianna’s and Roma’s reflective responses. 

What specific aspects of the pathology lab tour fascinated you the most, whether it be the advanced equipment, collaboration among professionals, or intricate processes of sample analysis? 

Marianna: The lab tour was an incredibly insightful experience. Seeing all the theory we have explored in the past couple of years take form in a clinical setting was fascinating. I was particularly fascinated by the fact that although there was a high level of manual work, we observed advanced technology diagnostics we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see before applying for a clinical placement. In turn, this put things into perspective in terms of technological advancement, as we mostly practice our manual skills at university.  

Everyone was incredibly welcoming and willing to share their wealth of knowledge on any questions we had regarding the equipment and that is particularly encouraging going into a placement year with little experience. Additionally, the level of organisation within the pathology departments was particularly appealing to me, as someone who enjoys being in a highly organised environment. Overall, I was completely captivated by how much I already knew about the intricate and skilful process of diagnosis, but also how much I have yet to learn, which feels less daunting having seen the encouraging environment I hope to enter. Having taken part in the RSCH and Worthing Hospital laboratory tours, I am confident I can make an informed decision on which departments I would hope to get a placement in and whether a placement is the right option for me. 

Roma: A few things that stood out to me during lab tour at RSCH and Worthing were the histology and haematology departments, the specimen reception and the general workflow of the lab. 

The admin work done at the specimen reception deserves an honourable mention as they book in, check and process thousands of patient specimens every day. Here, they process request forms for inpatients, outpatients and the urgent samples are split, sorted and booked in for the right diagnostic test as well as checking the sample has been labelled and identified with specimen identifiers such as name, DOB and NHS number. This information fascinated me as unlabelled samples wouldn’t have an identity and wouldn’t be able to go forward with the relevant tests. 

The workflow of pathology labs had been maintained and the vast things that have been done to maintain precision and accuracy in diagnostic testing. Measures such as quality control before every test, temperature checks on the fridges and checking use-by dates of blood and plasma. Moreover, the use of request forms to organise and maintain workflow illustrated the importance of being organised and identifying relevant tests for the patient and specimen associated with the form. These thoughtful measures ensure safety and aid in preventing errors that could potentially cause life-threatening hazards or a misdiagnosis. 

During my time at histopathology, I had the great opportunity to be guided through the lab in the order that a sample would be processed. This includes fixation, dissection and cut up of tissue, immersion into paraffin wax and then sectioning the wax block. I was also able to get a sight of a few machines in this department like the Ventana Benchmark ULTRA PLUS (staining machine used for immunohistochemistry or immunocytochemistry) and Leica CM1860 UV (microtome), which was fascinating to get an insight into their use and how they reduce turn over time. 

During the tour around haematology, I was able to get an insight into many of the diagnostic tests done at these hospitals: including full blood counts, coagulation tests and blood transfusion matching. The sight of the full blood counts in real life at a lab had me engrossed as we had learnt how to analyse a full blood count to conclude if the patient was healthy or required further treatment in one our modules. A great example of this is increased white blood cells indicating infection; hence, the patient is immunocompromised. 

How did the recent lab tour bridge the gap between your theoretical Biomedical Science knowledge from lectures and its practical application in the pathology lab, and were there any ‘aha’ moments where concepts came to life during the tour? 

Marianna: We have been exploring biomedical science topics in-depth during our degree, and especially so during the second year. It was incredibly rewarding to witness people perform a lot of the techniques we have been acquainted to during our laboratory sessions. However, we also saw a lot of the theory we have been taught being interpreted with real world data. This was particularly evident in haematology, where we observed full blood counts and differentials, as well as different clinical chemistry testing being performed.  

Additionally, we are currently exploring multiple case studies in our modules to be able to draw diagnostic conclusions.  

We are part of a biomedical course that offers a seriously well-rounded education, and we all tend to have our favourite modules. During the lab tour, it made much more sense that our seemingly unrelated modules are completely interlinked. A patient freshly diagnosed with diabetes mellitus might be undergoing haematological testing, but it is not unlikely they might also be monitored histologically to determine diabetic comorbidities or microbiologically to assess opportunistic fungal infections. This correlation between different departments might be an obvious realization for some, however seeing it first-hand brings in a new perspective. 

Roma: During the lab tour, I was able to link many concepts I’ve learned about in the biomedical course such as health and safety and interpreting full blood count. I was also able to see the relevance of learning many practical skills that I’ve learned so far such as culturing techniques, pipetting using an automated micropipette, carrying out serial dilutions, centrifugation, gel electrophoresis, tissue preparation, embedding and sectioning using microtome (using different techniques depending on required turn over time ), staining: such as Gram staining and H&E staining, bacterial culturing: using sterile technique on many types of agar and identifying bacteria. Some of these things that we learnt as a manual technique are done by machines to give effective turnover time. 

A lot of the theory during the biomedical science module in my first year had laid a foundation for concepts such as health and safety the workflow of a lab, the work environment, the idea of quality control and an introduction to how samples would be processed in haematology (interpreting symptoms, possible tests to request and the conclusions that could be gathered from the lab results to diagnose haematological disease).  

During the tour in general, I recognised a few machines like the Ventana Benchmark ULTRA PLUS used in Immunohistochemistry (IHC) for staining histological or cytological specimens, which I had seen during my work experience 3 years ago and now that I see it again and understand what is involved in, I felt the accomplishment. 

What key insights, advice, and reflections did you gather from lab professionals about the daily challenges and rewards of working in a hospital pathology lab during your tour? 

Marianna: All the Biomedical Scientists and Medical Laboratory Assistants we spoke to were very welcoming and encouraging. What was particularly emphasised was the profound importance of doing a placement to complete the IBMS registration portfolio. Whilst recognising the challenge of having a great amount of responsibility when dealing with patient samples, the entire diagnostic process was evidently incredibly rewarding. We were given advice as to how to approach a placement opportunity to further our skills in biomedical science, as well as get valuable work experience to be fully equipped to enter whichever field we choose after graduation. 

Roma: The lab professionals were welcoming during the lab tour and the placement students completing their portfolio at these hospitals also relate to this welcoming learning atmosphere. The professionals I was able to connect with gave me an insight into the potential work environment and a bit of a day in a life as we were going around each department in the lab. From the many daily challenges, a biomedical scientist could potentially face the biggest example that I had observed were analysers not working hence biomedical scientists do staining and certain other practical skills by hand. This proves the vast importance of learning and getting a strong foundation of knowledge in practical skills such as pipetting and staining. Some of the rewards that I managed to understand from the conversations I had on the lab tour were that the learning curve is supported by senior professionals surrounding placement students and that the room to learn and develop doesn’t stop with employment. Learning never stops in a laboratory and I believe that new knowledge is a big reward. 

More about Simonne, Marianne and Roma

Simonne Weeks is an academic, and Director of Donor Research at the University of Brighton. As the module leader for Clinical Placements at both Brighton and Worthing hospitals, she plays a pivotal role in shaping the educational experiences of aspiring biomedical science students. Simonne brings a wealth of practical experience from her roles in the private and public sectors, contributing to the development and evaluation of quality improvement initiatives. Her commitment to organ donation awareness is evident through her directorship at the University of Brighton Donor Research team and involvement with NHS Blood and Transplant. Active on LinkedIn , Simonne shares insights into her work as a Senior Lecturer, NHS Clinical Placement officer, and dedicated advocate for organ donation. Her leadership extends to innovative co-production projects, exemplified by her role in the award-winning team at the University of Brighton. 

Marianna Valouma is a passionate second-year BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science student here at the University of Brighton, who seeks a placement year opportunity to enhance her learning and complete the IBMS portfolio. With a focus on bacterial dermatology and a keen interest in tissue morphology in health and disease, Marianna has explored the intersection of pharmacology and bacteriology. Her academic journey showcases strong laboratory skills, complemented by transferrable skills gained in hospitality. Marianna’s dedication to effective teamworking, creative problem-solving, and attentive learning is evident in her progress. Eager to expand her microbiology skill set, she looks forward to contributing to the UoB Donor Research team, aiming to promote blood and organ donation awareness in a positive and inclusive environment. 

Roma Sujith is a second-year BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science student at the University of Brighton. Her laboratory experience encompasses coursework at university, shadowing medical lab assistants and biomedical scientists at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and observing a biomedical scientist in an oral and maxillofacial radiology clinic during biopsies at Kings’ College Hospital. Through employment in retail and teaching, Roma has acquired transferable skills including teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills. With a focus on various diagnostic methods, she has gained knowledge in patient screening and testing variations. Outside academia, Roma avidly follows content and progress related to cancer diagnostics and similar topics. Eager to secure a placement year, she aims to acquire valuable laboratory experience, industry exposure, and a deeper understanding of its processes. 

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Simonne Weeks

Biomedical Scientist | Academic | Researcher | Director at University of Brighton's Donor Research.

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