What Does an Immunohematologist Do?

An immunohematologist is a lab technician who performs blood transfusion safety tests to ensure that blood is safe to be transfused into a patient. These technicians understand how antigens and antibodies interact to make a transfusion potentially dangerous. They work for hospitals, blood banks, clinics, and other transfusion facilities. Salaries may differ depending on location and level of education.

Testing incoming blood donations to type them is one aspect of an immunohematologist’s job. When a physician contacts the blood bank to order blood, the technician can sort the blood type for quick reference. In some regions where other blood group systems are prevalent in the population and the lab wants to avoid potential transfusion reactions, detailed typing that goes beyond the basic A-B-O and Rhesus blood group systems may be necessary and available.

When blood is needed right away to treat a patient in an emergency, the immunohematologist sends up the best possible match, such as a unit of type O-negative blood. In a patient with an unknown blood type, such units are the least likely to cause a transfusion reaction. When the immunohematologist has more time, he or she can compare a unit of blood to a sample from the patient to look for any potential antibody reactions that could cause a problem. The blood bank, for example, prepares typed and cross-matched blood that is safe for use in the operating room when preparing for surgery.

An immunohematologist can be consulted to discuss a planned transfusion procedure and for advice. These medical technicians can also collaborate with nurses and other healthcare professionals on issues such as developing a safe blood transfusion protocol. They may also work in the field at blood drives and donation centers, conducting intake interviews with donors and ensuring that they understand the risks and benefits of blood donation. Some also participate in public awareness campaigns to encourage community members to donate blood.

A two- or four-year degree may be required to work as a medical technician or technologist. As a physician or other doctoral degree holder, you can study antigen-antibody reactions and learn more about blood transfusion and organ donation in the field of hematology. Because this job entails research, product development, and direct patient care, it necessitates a higher level of education. If the work appeals to an immunohematologist, he or she may choose to complete general training, begin working, and then return to school for an advanced degree later.