Getting started as a lab technician

Alicia is a laboratory technician in pathological anatomy in a center for the fight against cancer in the south of France. It receives and handles samples on a daily basis, which are then analyzed by doctors. Focus on a little-known but essential profession in the medical world.

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What is the job of a lab technician?

“For my part, I work as a laboratory technician in pathological anatomy, nicknamed “anapath”. I receive biopsies, tissues and organs, also called fresh parts, from cancer patients. I ensure the proper receipt of these samples and then record them. I also cut samples so that the doctors can observe them under the microscope and establish a diagnosis as soon as possible”.

What was your training?

“I studied a BTS in medical biology analysis for two years. There are many subjects such as biochemistry, physics, hematology, immunology or even microbiology. I did an internship in a biology laboratory at the Hôpital de la Conception in Marseille. I should have undertaken a second internship, but the Covid has invited itself…”.

What are the qualities required to become a laboratory technician in pathological anatomy?

“Above all, you have to be versatile. In the hospital where I work, we change positions every week. It is essential to be thorough. We handle delicate, sometimes sharp objects, such as blades. It is better not to cut yourself and be attentive in each of our gestures. As in all professions, I would add that you have to be efficient. Finally, you have to know have a good team spirit. The laboratory technician is integrated into a work chain. She must know how to transmit the right information to the people who are going to work on the sample she has just processed. If an error has occurred, it must imperatively communicate it”.

What is your typical day like?

“It all depends on the position you are working on. As I mentioned earlier, the anapath lab technician changes positions every week. If I’m cutting, I work with paraffin blocks in which there are fresh pieces, tissues… I then take each sample separately to cut them on a microtome, a device used to study cells. We then obtain what are called ribbons which are spread on a slide. The blade is then heated on a plate in order to stretch the tissue as much as possible. The more it is extended, the more it is visible for the doctors who will study it. If I’m on the extemporaneous biopsy station, I work closely with a doctor. You have to know how to be lively and reactive because he and the patient are waiting on the laboratory technician to make a diagnosis or continue an operation: where is the cancer? Have the metastases progressed? How far can a tumor go? This is probably the job I enjoy the most, especially since I can observe the organs”.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to become a laboratory technician in pathological anatomy?

“Don’t be afraid of blood and have a strong stomach! (laughs). We see organs, tissues on a daily basis… It is better to have an attraction for scientific subjects if you want to get into this profession. I advise to undertake the BTS that I followed. He is, in my opinion, the best suited to become a laboratory technician in pathological anatomy. Internships are more than welcome to observe and practice. This profession is not popular, but it deserves to be known. This is one of the few specialties where you can still manipulate, the tasks are not automated. It’s a real privilege. That’s what makes this job so interesting”.

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Getting started as a lab technician

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