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National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology. Running each year in August, the week intends to encourage an interest in science pursuits among the general public, and to encourage younger people to be fascinated by the world we live in.
Behind the scenes of Mater sit many scientific staff across pathology, research, and clinical services—so to recognise this week, we heard from some of the talented scientists.
Jess DeVries is part of the Cellular Molecular Diagnostics laboratory at Mater Pathology, working across Serology, Molecular Microbiology (PCR testing) and Flow Cytometry.
Jess said she originally found herself drawn to Serology, Virology and Immunohaematology from a curiosity for the immune system and how it works.
“As I learnt more about the immune system, I wanted to delve into learning about haematological malignancies (cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes) and different viral pathogens,” she said.
Jess said that being a scientist tasked with molecular testing throughout COVID-19 has been both exciting and challenging.
“Testing for COVID-19 throughout this pandemic has been an exciting opportunity, and has also brought challenging situations, needing to constantly adapt to a rapidly changing work environment.”
Jess added that situations like this pandemic highlight the things that work and the things that don’t work, and it has taught her and the team many lessons.
“We have made major changes in light of COVID-19 and it’s been exciting to see what exactly we are capable of.”
“Moving forward, it would be great to work toward more sensitive and specific assays (testing reagents) for quicker turnaround times in testing.”
When asked what her piece of advice would be to the next generation of scientists, Jess explained that understanding the value science brings to patient care in a healthcare setting is fundamental.
“While you may not be directly involved with patients, the work you do contributes to patient care. Behind every sample you test, there is a patient and family awaiting an outcome and that’s what reminds me of just how important quality and efficiency in testing is.”
After graduating from university 38 years ago, Avis McWhinney started her career at Mater in a team of health practitioners tasked with providing high quality routine and specialised pathology services. Since then, Avis has developed a long career at Mater and now finds herself as the Supervising Scientist in the Metabolic, Biochemical Genetics and Endocrinology laboratory.
Avis said her role is to provide a sustainable socially relevant service that responds to changing needs and times within our customer referral base.
“The complexity of the role requires extensive knowledge of clinical disorders, appropriate pathology testing, interpretation and reporting of results to clinicians and allied health staff,” she said.
Avis added that one of the most rewarding aspects of being a scientist is understanding the difference laboratory testing can make to vulnerable lives.
“Through the provision of rapid laboratory testing of metabolic markers, we can make a difference to the lives of critically ill infants and play a role in ensuring that these babies are healthy.”
“Taking these results, we work as part of a bigger team of scientists, clinicians, nurses and dieticians to provide multidisciplinary care to the patients who need it most.”
When looking ahead to the future, Avis describes it as complex.
“On one hand we have rapid emergence of new diagnostic technologies, better information technology and the emergence of new testing possibilities that help diagnosis, monitoring and treatment options, however the scientific industry is definitely challenged by workforce capacity and skills.”
“With such a need for more highly qualified and experienced scientists and pathologists, I would love for young scientists to realise the crucial role they can play in patient care and management.”
“I would tell young scientists to be involved and active in their career, and have the determination to drive it forward.”
On the other end of her career, Catherine is currently completing her Degree of Medical Laboratory Science at university whilst she works in the Central Specimen Reception at Mater.
Catherine described her role as the first point of contact for all pathology specimens coming in for testing.
“We receive specimens for testing from both Mater Pathology and external collection centres, and enter patient demographics along with specify which tests have been requested by the clinician before providing this to the laboratory.”
“Each laboratory has a specialisation so they will usually each receive different specimens dependent on what test the clinician has requested.”
Catherine added that one of the great parts of her role is getting an insight into these many speciality departments to help inform what she will aim to specialise in at some point.
“The most exciting part of my role is the diversity of testing available at this lab, not only do I get to meet scientists across a number of specialised fields, but I am also exposed to the wide range of testing that is done here at Mater.”
Catherine said that as she progresses in her career, she is looking forward to supporting continual work to make pathology testing more accessible to people in our regional communities, and right across the world.
“Pathology is an ever-changing field with new technology and information surrounding testing arises every day, so I would like to see this translate into more accessible testing for those who might need it most.”
“One change that is likely to come in is more automation which will bridge the gap between our collection centres and the central laboratory and hopefully make testing and result reporting quicker.”
Catherine added that if she could give some advice to aspiring scientists, she would recommend staying curious and challenging the norms.
“Science is all about discovery and critical thinking.”
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