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Study Medical Laboratory Science at Otago

The backbone of medical decision making

Does this tissue sample contain cancer? What can this woman’s blood tell us about her health? Is this unborn child developing normally? Is this drug effectively stopping the infection? Did this man die of COVID–19?

Medical laboratory scientists are part of a highly-skilled team that works to solve the mysteries, put the pieces of the puzzle together and answer the critical questions of medicine. They play a crucial role in health care by providing laboratory tests and interpreting results to enable accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients. It’s a life-saving profession.

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Why study Medical Laboratory Science?

The Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science (BMLSc) is the only degree that enables you to enter the pathway to register as a medical laboratory scientist.

In the diagnostic medical laboratory, theoretical knowledge is combined with cutting edge technologies and sophisticated instrumentation to provide rapid, accurate and reliable results that are used by clinicians for the correct diagnosis and treatment of patients. The test results that medical laboratory scientists provide have an immediate impact on the care of patients, especially those who are critically ill.

The knowledge you acquire in the BMLSc degree will be directly applicable to your work as a medical laboratory scientist.

Demand for faster testing and constant monitoring of patients has taken some tests out of the laboratory to patients' bedsides. This is called “point-of-care” testing. Another new role is that of the clinical scientist, a position of responsibility achieved through time in the medical laboratory workforce and further training.

Career opportunities

The University of Otago BMLSc is an internationally-recognised qualification, enabling you to work around the world in:

  • hospital and community diagnostic laboratories
  • health research groups in universities, Crown Institutes, and the private sector
  • companies supplying scientific instrumentation (research and development, sales, technical support)
  • biotechnology companies
  • forensic science
  • diagnostic and clinical education
  • laboratory management
  • veterinary pathology laboratories
  • hospital mortuaries.

Career diversity is something we value. In addition to working in hospital and community diagnostic laboratories, medical laboratory science graduates often pursue other roles in medical science in the public and private sectors.

Medical Laboratory Science at Otago

What is a medical laboratory scientist?

Medical laboratory scientists are skilled health professionals who provide the laboratory-based tests and assays necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. 70% of diagnoses made by clinical staff (such as doctors) depend on laboratory tests. In fact, the practice of modern medicine would not be possible without medical laboratory scientists.

In addition to working in hospital and community diagnostic laboratories, medical laboratory scientists play important roles in other areas such as medical research, forensic science, and biotechnology.

Medical laboratory science covers a wide range of subjects. As a medical laboratory scientist, you can choose to become a specialist in one particular area after you graduate:

  • Chemical pathology – Changes in blood chemistry relating to illnesses like diabretes, cancer, drug dependency, and heart disease.
  • Haematology – Detection of diseases related to blood such as leukaemia and bleeding disorders.
  • Histology and cytology – Microscopic analysis of tissues and cells to identify abnormalities observed in cancer biopsies and cervical smears.
  • Immunology – Tests for changes in the immune response indicating infection, gluten and other allergies, and autoimmune diseases.
  • Microbiology and virology – Detection of harmful bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites causing diseases such as meningitis, pneumonia, and skin infections.
  • Transfusion science – The use of blood products and blood group identification is essential for organ transplantation, blood transfusion, and clotting factor deficiencies.
  • Molecular diagnostics – Nucleic acid testing has a wide range of applications. The ability to detect gene abnormalities has significantly advanced diagnosis and treatment of many diseases.

Admission to the BMLSc programme

The BMLSc is a four-year degree, including Health Sciences First Year (HSFY).

All applicants seeking admission under the HSFY category must have passed all seven HSFY papers with at least a B- grade (65%) overall average. UCAT (the University Clinical Aptitude Test) is not required.

The Admissions Committee will firstly select from those applicants who are applying under Single Programme Preference. Thereafter if places are still available, the Committee will select from the applicants that have applied to multiple Health Sciences professional programmes.

There are other routes of admission for students who have completed two or more years of University study, or who are University graduates. International students should apply under the International category for admissions.

Postgraduate study

If scientific research is your passion, a postgraduate degree provides an opportunity to further your education. The BMLSc(Honours) degree is one option. If you gain your BMLSc with credit or distinction, you are eligible to apply for the Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science (PGDipMLSc). This is a one-year programme which can be undertaken in most areas of medical laboratory science.

If you then gain your PGDipMLSc with credit or distinction, you can undertake a further year of research and study to gain a Master of Medical Laboratory Science (MMLSc).

There are opportunities for high-achieving students to progress to a PhD through a further three-year programme of research and study.

How to apply

Application information for admission into the Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science (BMLSc) programme is available on the Division of Health Sciences website:

Medical Laboratory Science: Guidelines for Admission

Background required

There are no subject requirements for entry into the Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) programme, but we recommend you take Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in Year 13.

If considering tertiary study before enrolling in HSFY, you are strongly advised to contact Health Sciences Admissions beforehand.


MELS papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
MELS208 2024 Introduction to Diagnostic Pathology 45 Full Year
MELS223 2024 Infection and Immunity (for BMLSc) 18 Semester 2
MELS230 2024 Biochemistry (for BMLSc) 18 Semester 1
MELS241 2024 Human Biology: Cells to Systems (for BMLSc) 18 Semester 1
MELS251 2024 Physiology (for BMLSc) 21 Semester 1
MELS301 2024 Diagnostic Chemical Pathology 30 Semester 2
MELS302 2024 Haematology and Transfusion Science 30 Semester 2
MELS304 2024 Principles of Pathology 15 Semester 1
MELS305 2024 Elements of Histotechnology 15 Semester 1
MELS306 2024 Medical Microbiology 30 Semester 1
MELS401 2024 Advanced Diagnostic Chemical Pathology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS402 2024 Clinical Microbiology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS403 2024 Clinical Virology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS404 2024 Diagnostic Molecular Pathology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS405 2024 Cytopathology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS406 2024 Haematology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS407 2024 Histopathology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS408 2024 Transfusion Science 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS409 2024 Clinical Immunology 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS410 2024 Medical Laboratory Science for Rural Health 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS420 2024 Medical Laboratory Science Practice for Honours 60 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS480 2024 Medical Laboratory Science Research for Honours 45 Semester 1, Semester 2
MELS510 2024 Advanced Medical Laboratory Science Practice 45 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MELS580 2024 Research Project 45 Full Year

More information

Contact us

Dr Tania Slatter
Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science Course Director
Department of Pathology, Otago Medical School

Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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