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When you go to the hospital, one of the first things a doctor might do is take blood and urine samples. Medical technologists conduct these tests on your samples and report the results to the doctor. Despite a trend toward specialization, medical technologists are often generalists with the ability to perform all kinds of medical tests. In larger laboratories, technologists might specialize in a particular area of testing.
Most people are blood type "O," but some are "A", "B" or "AB." If you need a transfusion and the doctor gives you the wrong type of blood, you can die. Medical technologists who work in blood banking prevent this from happening. When a patient needs a transfusion, they test a patient's blood to determine its type and match it to the blood type of donated blood. They also help to determine when a pregnant woman needs a drug called Rhogam because she and her baby have opposite Rh types, which can be fatal to the baby.
There are different kinds of antibiotics because there are different kinds of bacteria that cause infections. A medical technologist working in microbiology analyzes blood to determine which bacteria is causing an infection so a doctor can prescribe the right antibiotic. They also analyze blood to determine if the blood has a fungus or parasites. Medical technologists culture blood by preparing a plate with nutrients that help bacteria and fungi to grow. They add a specimen to the plate, wait a few hours or a few days and determine what grows using chemical tests or a microscope.
To prepare for a routine physical exam, your doctor might order a test called the Complete Blood Count, or CBC, which a medical technologist performs. Hematology technologists count the number of red blood cells and the number of white blood cells to help determine if you have an infection. They inspect the cells under a microscope to distinguish the different types of white blood cells and to determine if cells have the right shape and color. A technologist also measures how much of your blood is the fluid part, called plasma.
Your kidneys can filter about 200 quarts of fluid every day, removing about two quarts of waste as urine. Some medical technologists specialize in urinalysis to help determine if a patient has kidney damage, a urinary tract infection, diabetes or an electrolyte imbalance. They inspect the color and clarity of urine, analyze its chemical composition and look at urine under a microscope to identify crystals, bacteria or blood cells that should not be present in a patient's urine.
Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.