by Theresa Manavalan 16th October 2005, New Sunday Times
It's a meticulous, serious job. And it's always urgent.
That's why hands-on training in a real-life situation beats any other way to train medical lab technologists - the people who handle blood samples and other bodily specimens being tested for the state of a person's health.
The demand for sophisticated medical lab services is growing in Malaysia, so is the need for well-trained people to work in those labs.
"That's why we have moved to a private sector partnership to get the best training for our students," says president of Nilai International College Tengku Shamsul Bahrin. "We want them to see the relevance of their classroom work immediately, not at the end of the course."
This year, Nilai International College launched its medical laboratory technology diploma programme. Its students will spend about one-third of their two and a half year course in practical training at laboratories owned and managed by Gribbles Pathology Malaysia.
Last Monday, Nilai International College and Gribbles Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding to formally place students in real-life labs.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Tengku Shamsul and Gribbles Pathology Sdn Bhd chief general manager Dr Christopher Ting Yew Peng.
This formal arrangement between the college and the private lab means students have to do on-site training as part of their course.
Practical training will amount to approximately one-third of the programme.
Attendance and performance during practical training is accounted for in their final assessment and the eligibility of their diploma.
They will be supervised by Gribbles Malaysia scientists and by their lecturers.
Logbooks will be kept at Gribbles Malaysia to document each student's experience, discipline and aptitude.
Gribbles Malaysia will issue a certificate of attendance that the student can eventually enclose with his or her resume. Students will be placed at stand-alone labs or in a hospital setting or both.
"We can offer students the opportunity to watch scientists interact with doctors," said Ting.
"They will also understand the meaning of validation, the importance of standards in the work setting and the amount of automation in a lab."
In the old days, a lab assistant was someone who did research and routine testing of blood samples and other strange things brought to a lab. Everything was done manually.
Since the 1960s, the "old school" lab assistant needed to embrace changing technologies and get up to speed on what is known about diseases and the many components of the human body.
In 1967, Professor Dr Ungku Omar Ahmad, the then director of the Institute for Medical Research, began a pilot training programme for medical lab technicians.
Three years later, the Ministry of Health launched formal training.
In the 1970s, local colleges and universities began offering courses in medical laboratory technology.
Since 2000, medical lab technologists have also needed a good understanding of molecular biology, DNA testing and the use of computers and automation in the lab.
Gribbles Malaysia is the largest private diagnostics laboratory in Malaysia. Its 400 staffers work in a network of more than 30 electronically linked pathology facilities in Malaysia and Singapore.
Besides its reference centre in Petaling Jaya, Gribbles manages labs in several private hospitals and serves more than 5,000 medical practitioners, hospitals and other clients.
Gribbles Malaysia is a joint venture company of Berjaya Group Berhad and Gribbles Pathology of Australia.
Nilai International College offers degree and diploma courses in business, management, mass communications, ICT, computer science, engineering, hospitality, English language and allied health services.
There are also pre-university programmes.
There are some 2,000 students, about 700 foreigners from 40 countries. Its degree programmes are collaborations with Oxford Brookes University in Britain and La Trobe University in Australia.
Its 42-hectare campus in Putra Nilai, formerly known as Bandar Baru Nilai, opened in 1997. The college won the Malaysia External Development Corporation's Export Excellence Award 2003 in the education category.