David swapped a life on the land for a career in the lab

Since entering the world of pathology in 1974, medical scientist, David Nielsen, has witnessed enormous changes.

Automation of testing procedures, centralised blood collection processes, quicker test turnarounds, consistency and quality of results, modern communication channels that bridge geographical divides, and equity of service across Australia are some of the big-ticket items.

“Growing up on a farm in Kimba, South Australia, I realised I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer like my father, and upon the advice of a local teacher, a visit to the local pathology lab was organised. It was a fateful visit which piqued my interest in pathology,” said Mr Nielsen.

Before completing his year 12 exams, he was promised a job if he matriculated, which he duly did, and henceforth began a 44-year long association with pathology.

As a rural-based medical scientist he needed to become a pathology all-rounder, owing to the paucity of specialist pathologists. Arriving in Mt Gambier as an histologist, Mr Nielsen soon turned his hand to other pathology disciplines.

At age 30 Mr Nielsen started an undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Applied Science – Medical Laboratory Science, at Charles Sturt University, while working full-time in the lab. To add another layer of difficulty, he had three children under four at home.

Through the combination of study and full-time lab experience, Mr Nielsen was able to work in biochemistry, microbiology, haematology and transfusion.

While at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (IMVS) in Mount Gambier he would often work from 9-5pm and then be part of a roster for on-call work from 5-9am.

“One of us had to be on-call for after-hours and you might be woken up at 2am to perform tests for someone in a diabetic coma. You might be woken every two hours and then be ready for work again at 9am,” said Mr Nielsen.

“Back then we would do our own blood collects in the region, taking maybe 120-150 units of blood, which would then have serological testing elsewhere before we could add it to our local blood bank.”

Processes have changed significantly since then.

“Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s the level of technology and medical integration was underdeveloped, impacting access to quality pathology,” said Mr Nielsen.

The biggest impact on pathology over his career has been the introduction of National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accreditation.

“NATA accreditation has provided a framework for excellence across the industry.

“Pathology testing in Australia is known to be high quality, and with technological advances patients receive their test results faster,” Mr Nielsen said.

Recently Mr Nielsen became an ambassador for Pathology Awareness Australia (PAA) and in that role he will continue to champion the value of pathology to Australia’s healthcare system.

“I’m thrilled that as an ambassador for PAA,” Mr Nielsen said.

“It’s been a fabulous career. Every day is different, the work’s important, and the people you work with and meet along the way are terrific. I’m glad to be continuing that journey with PAA.”