An international placement has given an RMIT Laboratory Medicine student the opportunity to expand her skills and immerse herself in a different culture.
During the final year of her Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Laboratory Medicine), Jaelyne Birrell learned local customs and met new friends while on a three-month placement at the University of Gothenburg, training at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, in the south of Sweden.
As part of the program at RMIT, all laboratory medicine students complete a 10-month professional placement in Victoria, with the option of spending three months of this on an overseas placement.
However, having never lived in a foreign country before Birrell was a little apprehensive.
“Despite being nervous at first to leave my comfort zone, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said.
“My first placement was in bone marrow morphology where I was taught how to investigate bone marrow specimens for haematological disorders and malignancies.
“I then worked in virus quantification where I analysed real patient samples for viral load using real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) after nucleic acid extraction.
“I also received training in flow cytometry and cytogenetics.”
Birrell said she appreciated that she was able to see and learn so much during her time in Sweden and loved taking part in some of the local traditions.
“The lab staff were like my second family and made me feel incredibly welcome,” she said.
“On top of all my lab-related questions, I felt that I could ask them anything about Swedish culture.
“I especially enjoyed 'fika' which is their word for coffee break.
“Every Friday morning there was an extra special fika where everyone in the lab gathered to share breads and spreads, cold meats, fruit, strong coffee and cake.”
Birrell also had a very different Christmas experience.
“It's winter, it snows, the days are short and the first thing you notice are the candles and star lanterns in almost every window lighting up the dark days and nights,” she said.
“Swedes have their own traditional Christmas foods such as herring, treats like saffron bun and hot drinks like glögg – and of course, there is ‘Tomte’ instead of Santa.
“We also celebrated St Lucia's Day which is just before Christmas and I was fortunate to witness the Lucia parade right in the hospital!”
In addition to her time in Sweden, Birrell also completed a placement at the Monash Medical Centre.
According to Birrell, the industry experience during her studies benefitted her in many ways.
“Both placements allowed me to broaden my range of skills, increase my knowledge and master specialist techniques; this really helped during the job application process,” she said.
“Working with different people and gaining experience in various environments has also made me more confident on the job.
“Overall, I feel more independent and I’m also open to working overseas in future.
“My studies have also helped me to select the area of biomedical science I’m keen to pursue for my career.”
Since graduating Birrell has been employed full-time at Microgenetix, a molecular microbiology company where she performs DNA sequencing to identify microorganisms to species level.
“I hope to continue working in the molecular field, in identification and diagnostics, whether in molecular microbiology or human genetics or genomics,” Birrell said.
Birrell initially completed the Diploma of Laboratory Technology (Pathology Testing) before deciding to pursue further studies in the field, going on to the Bachelor program to qualify as a medical scientist.
The professional practice placement is offered as part of the Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Laboratory Medicine) program.
Students may be based at labs throughout Victoria, but have the opportunity to spend three months of their placement overseas. Other students of this program have been to Malmö in Sweden, Edinburgh in Scotland and Vietnam.