In honor of National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 19-23, UTMB’s Pathology Department recently held an essay contest asking participants to describe a day in the life of a laboratory professional. The essays were judged by a laboratory committee and the top two, “CSI: Galveston,” written by Donna Wilson from Microbiology and “National Lab Week,” written by Gayla Ceccacci from Hematology were selected for publication in Impact.
There are approximately 300,000 practitioners of clinical laboratory science in the United States. Since the development of this career group in the 1920s, the clinical laboratory science professional has played an increasingly vital role in the diagnosis and prevention of disease. Today, the clinical laboratorian is a key member of a health care team.
Please take a moment to get to know more about UTMB’s laboratory professionals and the important role they play.
National Medical Lab Week
by Gayla Ceccacci
Who does that involve anyway? Have you ever heard of a medical technologist, or, the more “modern” term, clinical laboratory scientist? My guess is no, but you are probably far more familiar with words like “lab-tech”, “blood work”, etc… Unless you are an M.T. or C.L.S (or related to one), you probably have no idea who we are, or what we do. We are definitely “behind the scenes” since most M.T’s (especially at larger hospitals) do not draw patient blood. Nor do we simply process specimens by centrifuging, loading specimens on to instruments, or pushing buttons. Our job is far more complex than that.
A medical technologist is a highly specialized 4 year college graduate that has passed a national registry exam &/or specific state licensing exam if required in that state. He or she has also completed an intense clinical internship at a teaching hospital either in addition to their 4 years of college or as the last year of their college program. Continuing education is an ongoing process in our careers.
Almost everyone knows of someone who has suffered a heart attack. But did you know it was a medical technologist that tested their blood to check cardiac enzymes to see if it truly was a heart attack?
Doctors cannot do their jobs without medical technologists. We provide vital and necessary information doctors need to determine what ails their patients. This information empowers doctors to make a valid diagnosis, & provide appropriate treatment choices.
Medical technology is a broad field. It includes chemists, microbiologists, hematologists, and blood bankers, to name a few.
Have you or a family member ever needed a blood transfusion? Did you know a medical technologist had to test, identify, and screen your relative for antibodies before they could be transfused? The unit of blood they were to receive also had to be tested. Without that process, a harmful transfusion reaction could occur. Sometimes these are even fatal. (Or certainly as harmful as not receiving any blood at all).
Maybe you or a loved one has been told they were anemic. Or worse, diagnosed with leukemia. It is often the medical technologist working in hematology that sees the first signs of this disease through routine “blood work”. Careful examination of a blood smear can show immature/abnormal cells. This most valuable information the medical technologist provides the doctor would alert your doctor to do further testing. (Maybe on bone marrow). Perhaps hospitalize you, to come up with a treatment plan for the best possible prognosis.
Maybe you’re diabetic or suffer thyroid disease-(either hypo or hyperthyroid).
Again- it is the medical technologist who provides your doctor the hard data or “numbers” associated with your glucose or hemoglobin A1C result or TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) value. These test results ultimately determine what your doctor can do to help you & helps them decide how to prescribe your medications correctly.
Have you ever had a sinus infection, ear infection, or an abscess? Again- a medical technologist identified the organism causing the infection and more than likely also determined which antibiotic would be most effective for treatment through sensitivity/resistance testing.
Simply put, doctors can not practice medicine without the information provided by the medical technologist. We work as a team to help patients get well.
I’ve touched only VERY BRIEFLY on VERY FEW of the most common things we do. The human body and its physiology is extremely complex. It only makes sense that the field of medical technology be just as complex to analyze and understand the human body’s function to achieve perfect balance which leads to good health.
So, the next time you need your blood drawn, don’t hesitate to put your arm out. Just think of the vast amount of knowledge a few tubes of blood can provide your doctor- courtesy of the medical technologist!!! (You know, the one you never see, or hear about…)
by Donna Wilson
It’s a bad one, Lieutenant,” the Galveston police officer reported to the homicide detective. “Blood is everywhere and the whole place is trashed. The Crime Scene Unit’s in there now.”
“I’ve got something,” the investigator said as he held up an evidence bag with a single hair sealed inside. “And, I can tell you that the perp walks with a limp, has a tattoo on his neck, hates cats and killed those people with a candle stick in the conservatory.”
"That’s incredible!” The detective remarked in amazement.
Incredible: yes. Realistic: no. That’s TV fiction.
However, real laboratory professionals do incredible things every day.
Cut yourself while fishing in the Gulf? We can identify the bacteria and give your doctor information as to which drugs will work the best.
Have fever and chills? We can tell if you have H1N1.
Think you may be having a heart attack? We can help determine if that is the problem or if it’s only that batch of spicy chili you ate last night.
Need a blood transfusion? We can test the donated blood to make certain that is compatible with yours.
So who are the lab workers who are coming up with these necessary answers?
We’re detectives in white lab coats. We’re from America, Columbia, Nigeria, China, England and from all over the world. We’ve got male tech and female techs. We’re experienced lab professionals who have been on the bench for years. We’re the new ones who have just graduated from school.
We’re not in the spotlight. We aren’t asked to sign autographs. We work behind the scenes, helping your doctor provide the best care for you. After all, 75 to 80% of the diagnoses made are based on laboratory results.
You may not see us; but we’re here for you.