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A Rewarding Career in Medical Science – Prompted by Jeff Kennett

Chen Lim is the head of the ‘automated’ biochemistry laboratory at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital.

Chen took an unusual path to the world of Medical Science. In fact, it was an opportunity that arose thanks to Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett.

“I did Agricultural Science at University but jobs in that field were rare. After graduation I worked in research in the Endocrinology (Hormones) Department at the Alfred Hospital.

I was there for 14 years, during which I did my PhD on thyroid hormones and took my young family over to Holland for a couple of years where I worked as a Post-Doctoral Fellow. My kids were fluent in Dutch by the time we returned!

By that stage, the Victorian government had restructured the state health service. My old department was absorbed by the Biochemistry department. I saw it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge outside of hormones.

One of the proudest moments of my career has been passing my AACB (Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists) exam in 2000. I really felt that moment cemented my career change from a Research Scientist to a Medical Scientist.

It’s a choice that I’m very happy with. The biggest change I’ve seen since then is automation. Until recently, one vitamin D test took two days to complete and it was performed by hand. A machine can now produce a result in an hour. We have the ability to measure chemicals in the body, such as thyroid hormones, in incredibly tiny concentrations.

It means faster diagnosis, more tests being performed and better management of disease conditions.

I’m in charge of about 200 individual tests in my laboratory. While machines are important, Medical Scientists remain absolutely integral to getting a result.

For instance, a piece of tubing in the machine could develop an air bubble which could cause incorrect results. Maybe some of the chemicals we use on the machines were exposed to sunlight during delivery and have gone stale. Or maybe a sample got bounced around and that affected the test results. You need people with a solid understanding of how the testing procedures work to figure out if a result is correct, and if not, what has caused the error and how to fix it.

I think many people are unaware of the role of the Medical Scientists in producing test results and its time we Medical Scientists were a bit more vocal about the important work we do. The consequences of an incorrect result can be extremely serious for a patient. Australia’s Medical Scientists work tirelessly to ensure correct results are provided in a fast and efficient manner.