Winners of the MLO 2002 Laboratory Contest

April 1, 2002

Heroes behind the scenes

Diagnosis and treatment of patients depends heavily on medical judgment derived from accurate and timely laboratory data. It is for this reason that laboratory personnel are often referred to as the unsung heroes in the healthcare treatment process, and it is for this same reason that MLO conducts an Outstanding Laboratorian Contest in honor of National Medical Laboratory Week (April 14-20). Aptly, the theme this year, Laboratory Professionals: Quality Care through Quality Testing, personifies the caliber of the entries we received from around the country. 

The process of learning and growing continues

Born in Ithaca, NY, Elaine West Gunter, B.S., MT(ASCP) spent the bulk of her formative years in Aiken, SC, where she had a very rigorous academic experience. She attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, majoring in biology/pre-med. Her intention to proceed to medical school was curtailed when Elaine met her future husband, Gary. Instead, she opted to take advantage of all the credits she had for exempting three years worth of French courses, graduating and marrying three years later.

After spending a year in New Jersey as an Air Force wife, Elaine returned to Columbia, SC, to pursue medical technology training at South Carolina Baptist Hospital, where she completed her MT(ASCP) in 1969. She gravitated to the new instrumentation emerging in the clinical chemistry field. Elaine later moved with her family to Virginia, where she worked for Riverside Hospital, a very progressive multi-county emergency hospital, and then to Durham, NC, where she joined the VA Hospital and commenced her government career. Although she continued to work with a wide variety of clinical and special chemistry instrumentation, she also served as a generalist for weekend and night duty, gaining experience in the different parts of the laboratory. 

In 1973, she joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has since then held a progression of clinical positions and undertaken innumerable national and international surveys, studies, projects, and long-term contracts for the Division of Laboratory Sciences of the National Center for Environmental Health. Currently, Elaine is the Deputy Director for Management and Operations for the Division of Laboratory Sciences, NCEH. The role of the division is to conduct biochemical and analytical analyses in support of CDCs mission in public health, dealing with bioterrorism response, emergency response, and assessments of environmental and clinical health. Elaine says, My promotion to this position in May 2001 marks the first time we have ever had a scientist instead of a career admin type of person for the position. I now get to use all my multi-tasking skills to mother almost 300 scientists and support staff and I hope that my extensive knowledge of the division and its staff and programs will be an asset.

Working with people, not just specimens

Jackie Stiles was born and raised in Iowa. She graduated from high school in 1961 and married her high school sweetheart in 1963. Jackie says, My good fortune was to have the best of both worlds raise a family and have a career but not at the same time. Jackie entered the laboratory arena through volunteer work, assisting a friend in the blood bank at a local hospital. That is where she says she caught the bug and chose the laboratory as a career. She became a certified MLT in 1981. 

For seven years, she worked in a local family practice clinic with five doctors and became head of the laboratory. My knowledge grew by leaps and bounds, for here I knew the patient, the diagnosis, and the management of clinical versus laboratory results, she says. 

In 1987, Jackie joined the Iowa State University Laboratory, where she performed microbiology testing in meat research and gave short seminars to students in pathogenic organisms. A year later, the Stiles family relocated to Phoenix, AZ, where Jackie joined the hematology department of CIGNA Healthcare (now Health Diagnostics Laboratory). Here she was responsible for QC/QA and staff training as well as performing bone marrow diffs, smears, and initial reading for Sezary cells and diagnostic differentials on the full spectrum of leukemia through to hemoglobinopathies. During this time she also developed training handbooks and competency photomicrographs. In her off-time she restructured the hematology procedure manual in accordance with CAP regulations, now referred to as the NCLLS format procedures, and made it her responsibility to improve the workflow of the department as a whole. Jackie admits, Teaching was the best. To see the light go on in another techs eyes as they suddenly understood a new concept or looked at an old one differently was what made it all worthwhile for her. 

Jackie has since been certified as an MT(AMT) and earned a bachelors degree in psychology. Still living in Phoenix, she currently holds the position of second shift technical supervisor at Health Diagnostics Laboratory, which she says gives her the opportunity of using all her knowledge and life-earned experiences.

Tana Sembiante is MLOs editorial assistant.

© 2002 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.