Zahra Arefa

Zahra Arefa

Hospital Laboratory Technician

Zahra’s job title is Apprentice Healthcare Scientist in the Enzyme department at Great Ormond Street Hospital

What I do

I’m an apprentice Healthcare Scientist in the Enzyme department so we mainly specialise in lysosomal storage diseases – it is a metabolic disorder and we deal with various types of enzymes which, if they are not working properly, cause a build-up of substances that can lead to a different range of disorders. We diagnose, test and monitor those diseases.

Zahra Arefa at work

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How I became a technician

A typical day in my
working life

We have routine testing which is a 24-hour service. We usually get in at 9am, put our personal protective equipment (PPE) on and then we delegate samples or prepare the samples that we have. We extract the white and red blood cells, depending on the test required.

It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to prepare a certain sample. We then freeze them down and store them until the Biomedical Scientists analyse them and decide if the patient is negative or positive, or to monitor for a certain disease.

The afternoon involves similar work – preparing samples. You also answer telephone enquiries from external hospitals – it might be about what type of sample they need to send, testing, any general concerns or asking for results.

At the end of the day, we turn off all the machines to make sure they don’t overheat because they are working all day. We then have to disinfect everything.

We have quiet and peak days - it is busier during school holidays. We would have six to 10 blood samples on a quiet day and about 20 on a busy day. Certain samples will be urgent and must be done within a 24-hour period – they usually take about two hours to prepare.

The most exciting thing I’ve achieved so far in my job

I have been able to get experience in lots of different departments. When I started, I couldn’t even explain what the different components of blood were. Seeing how much I have progressed and knowing how competent and comfortable I have become is something I’m proud of.

I am able to train and teach people now and, because of that, I have been able to move to different departments – one of which is immunology. At the time of the pandemic, we had to do some COVID-19 testing and I was part of the team that did antibody testing. I was just 19 at the time. I worked all through the pandemic.

The next steps in my career journey

I would like to progress to be a Biomedical Scientist. I also want to write a book about my mum and what she has been going through, and how that sparked my interest in science.

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