Diary of the “mad” med-lab techs

June 1, 2010

Scabs or saviors?
When I was a student at Walter Reed, we had a short-lived strike there in 1971.  The lab had enough non-union-member MTs and GIs to get through the strike, but it was tight without the MLTs, phlebotomists, and assistants.  Some lab managers would rather try to deal with a similar situation with remaining in-house personnel if they can; but if they cannot, managers will have to welcome the newcomers, who bring their licenses, education, and experience as well as their opinions, prejudices, and quirks.  If you are ever called to service another laboratory during a strike, keep your opinions on the politics to yourself; otherwise, you cannot insist that they to do the same. Wear your name plate/ID/title on your lab coat, but keep your political buttons for your “civies.” 

—By Chuck Millstein, MBA, MT(ASCP), CLDir(NCA),
gratefully retired

A unique and valuable experience
Recently, I had the opportunity in an emergency situation to help staff a microbiology department at a large teaching hospital — an incredible experience for me! I would do it again.

Whatever the reason for a large manpower vacancy, to walk as a substitute into a completely unfamiliar department where there is no training period is daunting, but can you learn from it!

Here are a few tips that might help anyone else who might decide one day to volunteer for something like this:

Be honest and forthright about your qualifications. Try to get assigned to bench areas with which you are most familiar.

You may run into adversity. Avoid confrontation and stay neutral.

Your supervisors will be spread thin and under enormous stress. Keep a notepad and write down instructions to avoid repeats.

“When in Rome” — remember you are a temporary worker; this is not the time to push for changes or be judgmental.

Take advantage of the chance to learn new methods and get hands-on experience with different equipment and instrumentation. This is a good time to flesh out your resume.

Value your temporary co-workers. They are in the situation with you, and you will build a strong bond with them over the coming days. You will also develop friendships that will last a lifetime.

Emergency coverage situations are fraught with emotions both good and antagonistic. Keep in mind that our goal as medical laboratory technologists is to provide a smooth, seamless temporary transition that does not disrupt quality of patient care during a very tumultuous time for healthcare providers.

—By Colleen K. Gannon, MT(AMT) HEW
the “Nancy Grace” for labs

A lab tech
My friend Peg is going to retire soon after spending decades of her life working in the clinical laboratory. She has gotten up early, stayed late at work, often missed her breaks and lunches, and worked as hard as she could for as long as she could during her shift. She has come to work in all kinds of weather — like driving in two feet of snow at 10:00 at night. She has never expected to be praised for her commitment to the field. She did what was expected of her. She is a lab tech.

Peg started in the field when all chemistry testing was done in test tubes, and white cell counts were done with WBC pipettes, spit strings, and counting chambers. She remembers when the first auto-analyzer was set up to do glucose testing; part of the daily maintenance was counting the number of air bubbles per minute. She recalls when Coulter came out with the hemoglobinometer, so she no longer needed to set up a daily hemoglobin graph.

Peg can recollect when every morning started with phlebotomy rounds; and everyone from the lab went to the patient floors and drew blood. Then they went back to the lab to start the instruments and start filling in the daily logs from hand-written requisitions because computers did not yet exist. Throughout the shift, if there was a STAT to be drawn, she would stop what she was doing, go draw the patient, and then return to the lab to do the testing.

As the years went by, Peg stayed up to date with the field. She learned to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot laboratory instrumentation. Initially, small instruments did cell counts and electrolytes. Eventually, large modular instruments both processed and tested the specimens. She learned to use increasingly complex computer programs to operate instruments, set employee schedules, and communicate with her fellow techs.

Through all this, Peg (who often missed her own family functions due to lab shifts) resolutely held the belief that every specimen represented a person — someone's mother, child, or spouse. To her, they were all equally important, so she always did her best with each and every specimen that passed through her hands.

Soon, my friend will take off her lab coat, empty her locker, and walk out of the laboratory for the last time. Her friends will get together and give her a send-off party and a gift. They will all laugh as they remember their years of working together. But how can you thank someone for years of dedication during which she always kept uppermost in her mind the importance of the work done in the clinical laboratory. When Peg leaves for the last time, there will be no big fanfare, nor would she expect there to be, because she was a lab tech.

—By Cheryl O'Brien
for Peg

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