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Coffee Break with Senior Biomedical Scientist Colleen Williamson

14th October 2022

What do you do and why do you do it?

I am the Senior Biomedical Scientist in Specialist Haematology, Belfast City Hospital.  The Specialist Haematology laboratory provides laboratory services for all of Northern Ireland and includes Haemostasis, Red Cell and Haemato-Oncology laboratories.

I didn’t know what profession I wanted to get in to but I always enjoyed science and the Biomedical Science degree in Coleraine provided so many job opportunities.  I did a placement year in the labs in Musgrave. On my first week we had a massive blood loss which was rare in Musgrave and I got to see the biomedical scientist in action, the rush and the pressure of getting blood out the door and I absolutely loved it.  After university I started working in Haematology and Blood Bank labs in the City Hospital and nearly twenty years later I am the Senior Biomedical Scientist in the Red Cell lab.

How do patients benefit from what you do?

Biomedical scientists and laboratory staff investigate samples which may be blood, urine, and tissue from patients, identifying diseases and monitoring the effectiveness of potential treatments. In the UK alone, healthcare laboratories are involved in over 70% of diagnoses in the NHS and handle hundreds of millions of patient samples every year.

Tell us about a typical day at work?

As a senior Biomedical Scientist, I am responsible for the day to day running of the lab.  This revolves around sample preparation, testing and releasing results.  A typical day starts with a team briefing, discussing the tasks that need performed that day, any important patient cases or information that staff need to be aware off.  We try to provide the best possible service for our patients with the highest quality of results.  To do this, we make sure our analysers are maintained daily and quality controlled, staff are trained and competent in their roles, demonstrating good laboratory practice.

With ever changing population demographics and people travelling further afield, the need for more specialist tests such as Sickle Cell, Thalassaemia, Malaria and even viral haemorrhagic fevers has become more in demand.  In the red cell lab, I deal with all suspected red cell disorders working closely with the haematology clinicians, ante natal and new-born blood spot screening services.   I also work out of hours in haematology and Blood Bank which provides urgent results and emergency blood products.

If a member of the public, patient or service user was sitting with you right now what would you like to tell them about your area of work??

That there are more staff and services behind the scenes of the hospital than the general public may never see or know about.  Biomedical Scientists are one of these.  We have an annual Biomedical Science day to raise awareness of our profession.  Before COVID I decorated a table in the foyer of the Belfast City Hospital and was able to chat to the public and inform them ‘what happens when a doctor or nurse takes your blood’.  Most people don’t know about us and what we do.

Tell us about the satisfaction you get from your job?​​​​​​​

My job is very interesting and I get to see a lot of different cases.  The labs are one big team, we all help each other out even when work can be stressful.   We think of each other as friends and family instead of just work colleagues.

Stereotypically most people see us as nerdy scientists or even vampires but we are just normal everyday people in white coats!

Tell us a little about your life outside of work?​​​​​​​

I have 2 sports mad children who play GAA so at the weekend I am the certified taxi driver.  I love reading and I am a member of a book club, where I get to meet and chat to new friends with similar interests.  Favourite books at the minute is the thriller Verity by Colleen Hoover and the Giver of Stars by Jo Jo Moyes.