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.
Hospital Laboratory Technician
Zahra’s job title is Apprentice Healthcare Scientist in the Enzyme department at Great Ormond Street Hospital
What I do
Hear more about Zahra's role by watching the video below...
How I became a technician
My mum started getting ill when I was 11 and we didn’t know what was going on, so I was on the patient side seeing how disease can affect someone.
She wasn’t diagnosed until 2018 with rheumatoid arthritis, so there was a very long period when we didn’t have any answers. This sparked my interest in science.
At school I studied English Literature, International Relations, Psychology and Sociology at A-level. I didn’t choose any sciences.
When I was deciding whether I wanted to go to university or get a full-time job, I was searching online and found the apprenticeship route into science. I thought it was good to progress into a science field because I felt like I missed out on that. I applied online and I have been at Great Ormond Street for four years now.
My apprenticeship coursework included putting a portfolio together of different evidence that you pick up in the laboratories, like witness statements, testimonies or evidence photos.
At the same time you are gaining hands-on experience in the laboratory. You do a class once or twice a week and the rest of the time you are working full-time in the laboratory.
A typical day in my
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.