Tag Archives: science education

The Obligations of a Scientist

As much as I wanted to, I initially decided against answering Dr. Stemwedel’s questions about scientists’ obligations. She split the respondents into two groups – scientists and non-scientists – and I was uncomfortable with choosing a side because I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Yes, the word is in my job title (I’m a Medical Laboratory Scientist), but I always imagine “a scientist” running experiments and curing cancer and discovering quasars and writing papers that will earn them a Nobel prize. I don’t do any of that. I just play with blood. I used to work in a hospital blood bank. These days, I work in manufacturing.  I make specialized reagents for reference immunohematology laboratories to use in solving complex cases and finding rare blood types for transfusion. I work in a scientific field, but am I a scientist? I don’t think Dr. Stemwedel intended for her questions to open up cans of introspective worms in her readers, but they gave me a lot of thinking to do.

After discussing my dilemma with friends who feel the same way, I finally decided that I am comfortable saying that I am a scientist1. Wearing that badge, I will offer up my thoughts, even if I’m late to the game by a couple of weeks.

Note: Because of my background, I’m biased towards biological and medical sciences. There are many different species of scientist, of course, and I can only speak for myself.

1. As a scientist, do you have any special duties or obligations to the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world? If yes, what are they?

As a person whose daily work affects the lives of others, I think I have a general obligation to give a damn about the work I do, and take pride in doing it well. I’ve written about professionalism before, and I still think it’s a critical quality for a scientist to have. That said, I don’t think a commitment to quality is in any way restricted to scientists. I think that any human being who’s taken on a career of any sort has that same obligation, although laziness and corner-cutting will have a greater impact in some fields than in others. A bolt missing in a box of Ikea furniture, while annoying, isn’t as bad as a bolt lost in the assembly of a helicopter.

Scientists are held up to a different standard, I think, than the average person. The title of “scientist” often carries with it an presumption of intelligence and authority, which is why an answer from a scientist on a scientific topic will carry more weight than the same answer from a bus driver. The same can be said of anyone who’s an expert in a field, from law to medicine to electrical work. We need to be aware of the fact that people will trust our answers, and we must be comfortable with admitting ignorance instead of making guesses. As scientists, we should be the very last people pulling answers out of the air (excepting, of course, the atmospheric scientists among us) when we’re not entirely sure. Our training urges us to do the research, check sources, and back up our assertions with facts2.

Over and above avoiding statements we can’t back up, I think we have an obligation to call out bullshit science when we see it. Homeopathy, wacky diets, “OMG the moon will be BIGGER THAN MARS tonight” Facebook posts, and that sort of thing. If those of us who know better don’t step in and replace false claims with correct information, then the level of scientific literacy in this world will keep declining. That would make for a sad and ignorant world, and i’d very much like to avoid it. We get bonus points if we can make the real science as exciting as the fake science, because then people will be inspired to share the good stuff, and it will get out there faster and crush the forces of bullshit. I hold up Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, as an example we should all aim to follow.

2. If you have special duties or obligations, as a scientist, to the rest of society, why do you have them? Where did they come from? (If you don’t have special duties or obligations as a scientist, why not?

I was raised believing that we all have a duty to contribute to the world in some way, and to live and work with integrity. My teachers in the medical technology program reinforced the importance of quality in laboratory work, and I’ve taken that to heart. Thanks to those teachers, I’ve always felt very strongly about promoting my profession. I don’t scribble fun lab facts on a sandwich board and stand in the park with a megaphone, but when Medical Laboratory Professionals Week comes around, I put in a lot of effort to get information out there.

We need a scientifically literate society if we want to keep making progress as a species. If I don’t support and promote science when I’m given an opportunity to do so, then I’m not contributing to that end.

3. As a scientist, what special duties or obligations (if any) do the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world have to you?

To ask questions, even if it means challenging a scientist. It’s just like the “Ask me if I’ve washed my hands” buttons you may have seen nurses wearing – just because we know we should be doing it the right way doesn’t mean that we always are. And it’s okay to remind us of that.

1.  That discussion deserves a post of its own, and it will get one soon.

2. I’m looking at YOU, “Doctor” Phil.

Lab Q&A – I could really use your Qs!

I’m live-tweeting my workday today, and it’s probably the most entertaining thing I’ve done in ages. I should have done this for Lab Week!

The response is reminding me how much I love talking about laboratory science, and how important it is to share a little bit of it with the world, so my profession can be better understood.

But I’m not a professor with a lesson plan, and what’s fascinating to me may bore others to tears. So I need to know what you’d like to know about what goes on in a laboratory. I worked in hospital labs for several years, and now I work in a blood reagent manufacturing lab, so I’ve got a whole bunch of answers rolling around in my head – I just need you to prompt me with some questions.

So, folks: what have you got?

What else can I do with my medical laboratory degree?

To close out this year’s edition of National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, I want to step away from the hospital lab.
I left the hospital life a year and a half ago to move into an entirely different sort of laboratory work, but I still talk about the hospital every time I’m asked questions about the profession. I do it because it’s the world I worked in the longest (so far) and so I know it very well, and because the majority of graduates from medical laboratory science programs will find employment in hospital labs. My information about working as a hospital med tech is relevant and well informed, but it’s not the entire picture.
You can do a lot more than hospital work with a MLT or MLS degree. There are also positions available in walk-in medical clinics like LabCorp or Quest, and in some large medical practices. Some specialty medical practices, like endocrinology centers and fertility clinics, will also have their own small laboratory in-house to run some of the simpler tests. Often, in those places, a lab tech will end up doing more outside-the-lab work, like bringing patients into exam rooms, and taking blood pressure and other vital signs. Some of them are 24-hour places with shift work, and some are a 9-to-5 weekday job.
There are specialty laboratories that run all the weird complicated testing that other labs aren’t equipped to do, like genetic testing. There are veterinary labs. Most manufacturers of food, cosmetics, and drugs will have laboratory staff to test their products for quality. There are labs that specialize in drug testing, for pre-employment screens or for athletes.
Depending on your interests, you can get yourself into a research laboratory at a university, or a place like NIH or the CDC. There are plenty of laboratories at the county, state, and federal level, also. Public health labs are the most obvious ones, but what about the FDA? EPA? Even the U.S. Geological Survey does a ton of microbiological research.
You can teach. You can travel and be a tech in other countries. You can get more technical and work for the instrumentation giants like Beckman Coulter or Siemens, either in tech support, sales, or research and development of new assays. If you like computers, you can get into programming and work with laboratory information systems.
And working for these companies doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be sitting at a lab bench. Someone who’s got a laboratory background can do very well in tech support, customer service and education, quality assurance, or regulatory compliance.
That’s another area lab techs can move into – there are several regulatory bodies who oversee laboratories of different types. The American Association of Blood Banks, The Joint Commission, The College of American Pathologists – all of these organizations inspect laboratories for compliance and hand out accreditation, and need inspectors who understand laboratories.
Yes, when you graduate from a medical laboratory science program, you’ll probably start out in a hospital lab, doing the shifts that the seasoned techs don’t want. But you’re not stuck there if you don’t like it. It’s been my experience that the school programs aren’t very good at showing students all the other options that are out there, and how they can work towards them. Hopefully this post helps a few folks who are hating their night shift hematology job but don’t know what else they can do with a medical laboratory degree.

Are There Any Questions? (Part 2)

How did you decide to enter this field?
I had a Bachelor’s degree in Physiology and didn’t get into graduate school on my first try, mostly because of a lack of practical research experience. I decided that the MedTech program would be a good way to earn some practical laboratory skills while I waited a year or two to apply again. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the course material, though, and I ended up staying with the program and finding rewarding work in a hospital lab.

What kind of education and training did you have?

I already had a Bachelor’s degree, and the MedTech program I graduated from was in a “CEGEP” in Montreal, which is similar to a US community college. While it was only a 3-year program, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Scence (CSMLS) considers it equivalent to the 4-year college laboratory programs in other provinces. When I wanted to work in the US, my MedTech degree would have only been sufficient to let me sit for the MLT exam (Medical Laboratory Technician), but with my previous B.Sc. I could write the MLS exam and be a Medical Laboratory Scientist.

The final 6 months of that program were an unpaid internship shared between three area hospitals, where I worked 8-hour shifts in all the areas of the lab: hematology, biochemistry, blood bank, microbiology, and histotechnology. During that time, I got to work as though I were one of the hospital’s regular employees, running patient specimens and reporting results. I was supervised and guided, of course, but after the first few days of training, I was mostly on my own and dealing with the workload as though I worked there for real.

What personal qualities are important for an individual considering this field?

Attention to detail is crucial, and an ability to detect when something doesn’t seem right is a big plus. Sometimes a result might seem okay but in context it won’t make sense – a good tech can sniff those out and deliver better care. For example, a really high glucose level might mean a diabetic patient in a crisis, but it could also mean that the specimen was drawn from the same vein a glucose IV is connected to.

Multitasking well is also helpful, because you’re rarely just doing one thing. Most of the time, the laboratory staff is cross-trained to some extent, so that the tech running the urinalysis bench can go help the hematology tech if the workload is uneven. Especially on the off-shifts, where that type of “generalist” is much more common, you need to be willing and ready to be a team player. I know that gets thrown around a lot in the business world, but I think it’s very true in the laboratory and I don’t mean it in a dismissive corporate-speak way. The tests must get done, or patient care suffers. So if someone’s getting backed up in their workload and you’ve got nothing to do, you get up, go over, and help. It’s just what you do in the lab, because you care about those patients waiting for their results.

What do you wish you had known before entering this field?

The profession, while as vitally important to patient care as nursing, doesn’t get very much respect. Few people know we even exist, let alone what we do, and our pay is much less than for nurses with equivalent education and experience. Unfortunately, this ignorance of our importance can sometimes exist within hospital management, and labs are often understaffed and overworked, with old equipment that can’t be replaced due to budget cuts. We make do and we put up with it because we care about the patients upstairs in the OR or the ER or the maternity ward and want to do right by them.

That’s why I care so much about Lab Week – I want to advocate for the profession so that we’re more visible and our work is better understood. Without dedicated and caring laboratory staff, a hospital would fall apart.

What do you like best and find most rewarding about the career?

Knowing that every day, I did something to help a patient live longer or healthier by providing a doctor with a result, or preparing blood products for transfusion.

Now that I’m out of hospital work, I find I’m enjoying learning more about quality assurance as it applies to the laboratory. I’m doing more research and development work, and manufacturing FDA-licensed test reagents, and it’s a lot slower-paced than when I was used to in the hospital. I like that I’m getting a chance to learn so many new things right now.

What do you like least and find most frustrating about the career?

Hospital politics and understaffing. It’s hard to do a good and safe job when you’re working on too many things at once.

How much influence do you have over decisions that affect you?

That depends on the specific lab and on the manager and supervisors. Good labs will ask for input before changing schedules, ordering new equipment, and adopting new procedures. In my experience, I have not had enough influence. That’s part of why I took a break from hospital work (but being tired of evening shift was the main reason). I’ve never been very good at accepting “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as an answer, and that sometimes gets me into trouble. I’m a problem-solver by nature, and I’ve always tried to improve processes by studying them first instead of just applying random fixes. While I think that hospital labs are starting to head in that direction, there’s still a long way to go, and I often found myself frustrated when hospital management decided to “solve” a problem without really understanding it.

What additional training and qualifications are necessary for advancement?

There are levels of certification. MLT and MLS are the most common ones, but you can also take special courses for advanced certification in one specialty like chemistry or blood bank, and that is often a good path towards management. It’s also possible to branch out from the hospital lab and work in other fields like quality assurance, manufacturing, instrumentation, and IT.

What specific advice would you give to someone entering this field?

Don’t cut corners, ever. You have lives in your hands. Quality control is done for a reason. Procedures are in place for a reason. Don’t ever let anyone else (nurses, doctors, management) bully you into cutting corners, either. Be prepared to work hard and probably not get a ton of kudos for it. I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing the difference I was making, and I enjoyed the pressure and the feeling of being needed. It can be an incredibly draining career, but worth it if you want to be in healthcare and prefer working in a lab instead of directly with people. Oh, and if you’re easily grossed out, or if you tend to faint at the sight of blood, this is obviously not a career for you.

Are There Any Questions?

Over the past few months, I’ve been preparing for Lab Week by collecting questions from my friends and readers about laboratory work. I’ve done my best to be honest, because the point isn’t to trick people into joining the ranks of Medical Laboratory Scientists by painting the profession in a prettier light than it deserves. I love what I do, and my goal is to educate folks on what I mean by “what I do,” and how I got there. If that inspires anyone to look into laboratory work as a career, that’s an excellent bonus, and I encourage those folks to pipe up with any other questions they may have.

What sort of school is required for the job (in the US)?

That’s a tough question, because “the job” can mean a few different things, and different schools handle Medical Laboratory programs differently. Most hospitals prefer to hire people who are certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), so if you’re considering a laboratory career, their website is a good place to start. This link will bring you to their certification section, where you can look into the various requirements to sit for the exams and earn a certification. There are several different certifications, and several ways to qualify for them, depending on your level of education and experience. In a nutshell, you qualify for certification as a medical laboratory technician (MLT) with an associate’s degree, and a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) with a bachelor’s degree. The difference between the two, in practical terms, varies a lot. Many employers will give an MLS a higher salary than an MLT, reflecting the extra years spent at school, but some places don’t bother to differentiate between them. If you’re looking to move up into management, keep in mind that most places will require the higher degree for supervisory or charge positions. You can also choose to certify in only one sub-specialty of laboratory science, like biochemistry or microbiology, but that will limit the areas you can work in, and all the schools I know of prepare you for the “everything” exams.

At school, you’ll learn chemistry and biology and math and physiology, with a little bit of computer stuff and instrumentation thrown in. In my limited experience, a bachelor’s level program will go deeper into the why and how of laboratory testing, but a graduate of a 2-year program is no less equipped to do the actual work. There are sit-and-take-notes classes, of course, but also many hours spent in the school’s labs, learning techniques. Hospitals sometimes donate their older equipment to Medical Laboratory Science programs, so students get a chance to work with the instruments instead of just learning things theoretically. See if the school you’re applying to has an internship program, or if you need to find work experience yourself. Internship programs are great because you get a feel for what the lab is really about, and employers get a free trial of you as an employee, so there’s a chance you’ll get a job offer out of it if you impress them.

Is it a good long-term job, or do most people get into it temporarily on the way to something else?

I think it’s a great long-term job because of the job security. The laboratory workforce is aging, and there aren’t enough new techs graduating to fill the positions left open when people retire. Hospitals are doing their best to cut back and make do with fewer techs, but the fact remains that someone’s got to run the laboratory if the hospital is going to provide decent health care, so laboratory personnel aren’t going to be downsized out of existence.

I’m happy that I made this career choice mostly because of the built-in flexibility. Because hospital laboratories are running 24 hours a day and never close, there are an incredible number of schedules to choose from. There are usually three shifts – days, evenings, nights – and some hospitals even have some swing shifts that fit somewhere in the middle. You can work full-time or part-time. You can work only weekends. You can be “PRN” (which means “as needed”) and get called to fill in gaps in the schedule when people are sick or on vacation.

Not everyone shares my opinion about how good a career choice it is. Unfortunately, the pay for most Medical Laboratory Technicians and Medical Laboratory Scientists is far less than for comparable healthcare professions, like radiology techs, nurses, and pharmacy techs. Here’s the most recent data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of the lower wages, it’s difficult to keep ambitious and talented young people in the field. Many younger techs I’ve worked with have used the laboratory as a part-time job while they go back to school to pursue advanced degrees in the hopes of moving into nursing or pharmacy. Let’s just say that the med techs who stick with it long-term are definitely not in it for the money.

How much continuing education do you have to do? How well does your employer support it?

To maintain my MLS certification with ASCP, I need to complete 36 education credits every three years, spread across different areas of laboratory work. ASCP offers some online activities to help me earn credits, but unfortunately most of them aren’t cheap. I try to look for free educational activities through vendors and other professional organizations. There are several ways to earn credit, including attending college classes, publishing a research paper, serving on committees, or attending lectures. The amount that an employer will chip in for educational activities varies a lot – education is often one of the first casualties of a shrinking budget. I’ve heard that some hospitals are very diligent about keeping their techs certified and helping track their education credits, but I’ve been more or less on my own so far.

If you’re employed outside of the hospital world, certification maintenance is less important. Of course, keeping up on developments in your field of work is a good idea either way.

How much of your work deals with software?

Laboratory computer systems are interfaced with the hospital’s information system so that tests can be ordered and reported electronically. Especially in hematology and chemistry, tests are mostly run on large analyzers which are hooked up to the computer system, so the techs only need to accept results on a screen before they send them on their way. You definitely need to be comfortable with learning how to work with new software if you’re going to work in a modern lab, because the instruments all have their own operating systems, and most of your day will be spent ordering and reporting tests on computer screens. The more you can learn about how to make the instruments do what you want, and how to fix little issues that arise, the less stressful your work shifts will be. Of course, none of that helps you when the computers crash and you need to do it all on paper…

Do you have to wear different levels of protective clothing depending on the test?

I’m always wearing gloves and a lab coat when I’m handling specimens, because it’s safest to assume that every specimen may be positive for something infectious. Where I am right now, all the blood I work with has tested negative for all the bad stuff, but it’s important to remember that only means “the bad stuff we currently know about and test for.” Blood wasn’t tested for West Nile virus or Hepatitis C twenty years ago, and I have every reason to believe that some new bloodborne disease will become an issue in the next few decades and I’ll find out that all this blood I thought was “clean” may have in fact been exposing me to some new pathogen. So I glove up, always. Why take a risk?

On top of the gloves and lab coat, I sometimes wear a face shield or work behind a splash guard if I’m doing something that might cause splashes. Cutting open units of plasma and pouring them into a pooling vessel, for example. That gets messy, and I don’t need plasma in my eyes. I’ve also got big insulated gloves to wear when I handle specimens frozen in liquid nitrogen.

What’s the neatest/most unusual thing you ever found (if you can talk about it)?

I think it’s pretty incredible that in many cases, I was the first person to know that someone had influenza, or herpes, or leukemia. Until I called the doctor with the result, it was a suspicion. Afterwards, it was a diagnosis. That sort of thing kept me very aware of how important the work is.
 

Life as a Rural Med Tech

My friend and professional colleague, Scott, graduated with me from a medical laboratory technology program in Montreal several years ago. Our careers started very similarly, with both of us being offered positions in big Montreal hospitals. Last year, though, Scott made the decision to move to a tiny Quebec town so remote that there aren’t any roads connecting it to the big cities and you’ve got to arrive by plane or ferry. 
Because he believes strongly in the advocacy aspect of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, Scott was happy to allow a chat to become an interview for my blog. He will be translating part of this post for use in his hospital’s newsletter to celebrate Lab Week in the far north.
Scott, you currently work in a very remote area of Quebec. Why did you decide to leave your job in a big Montreal hospital to work where you are now?

Changing from a larger institution to a more remote smaller institution was driven by the idea that I could be more involved globally in all the different branches of med lab. Larger institutions tend to train technologists in one particular area while a smaller lab involves more cross-training. Also, the quality of life in a small northern community was key in my decision to head north.
Downtown “Scottsville”
Besides the view and the shorter commute, what are the biggest differences you’ve noticed in how the lab is staffed and run at the two hospitals?

In the larger institution I found that quantity, tests per hour, turn around time were very important markers in the running of the lab. Patients are one of a number of patients. In a smaller lab; patient care and quality tends to be of the utmost importance. The results produced from a smaller lab are those of a neighbour, friend, or someone from one of the villages served.

I currently have three co workers. Two medical technologists and one technician. The shifts are 8am-4pm/10am-6pm/1pm-9pm Monday thru Friday with one 8am-4pm shift on Saturday and Sunday. All other hours are covered by an on-call service that is shared by the three medical technologists. Therefore, I do on-call every three weeks. I would say I’m called in on average 2-3 times per week. Emergencies most of the time are chest pains, heart attacks. Most big cases are transferred to larger tertiary centers. We are very dependent on charter airplanes: we have two planes on standby most of the time to move people around.

Scott’s winter transportation

Would you go back to a big hospital, now that you’ve seen what a small rural hospital lab is like?


It would be difficult to return to a larger institution. I am happy overall with the job in the smaller hospital. I think it has more to do with quality of life than the actual job. There are crappy things to working here and crappy things there. Right now there is less crap here than there. 🙂


The Montreal General Hospital

Do you feel like a bigger hospital, because of its volume, is less able to be careful? Are the results coming out of the lab more likely to be inaccurate?

Quality is a difficult thing to judge. I don’t think that results would be inaccurate but larger institutions with increased automation and being driven by quantity might have more difficulty picking up on problems that arise. Both institutions follow quality control and quality assurance guidelines; but to use an analogy, Ferrari produces very high quality cars but only produces a few per year while Ford produces millions of cars with very good quality but not to the standard of Ferrari.
“Scottsville”: Home to the Ferrari of hospitals

Speaking of automation, is the rural hospital equipped with older analyzers, or are you working with newer versions of the instruments?
 

Each institution chooses instruments based on needs. The larger institution had a higher volume and therefore required newer and more performing machines. The smaller hospital had instruments for the volume that is done and therefore they do tend to be a little older but still produce very good results. As an example, I saw a new instrument being offered by a biomedical company that could produce over 4000 test results per hour. In the smaller lab, an instrument of that size would be useless. The smaller institution requires more reliable, proven instrumentation.
He’s really, really far north

You’re in a very very out-of-the-way spot and depend on ferries to bring you supplies. Have you ever had problems getting reagents or blood for transfusion due to weather problems? What happens when an instrument fails and needs repair?

On a daily basis, we are very dependent on the weather. If the weather is bad, sometimes we cannot receive orders or send out specialized tests to other hospitals. We tend to check the weather on an almost hourly basis due to the rapid changes that can occur weather wise. One of the most important choices in my opinion for the lab when purchasing instruments in to purchase reliability. But in cases when things do fail, a med tech must be able to tinker with instruments with the assistance of over the phone tech support. We do carry a few spare parts but most are sent next day if needed. If an instrument has a major failure, service contracts guarantee that service technicians will come out and have a look. The smaller lab does allow me to get more hand on with repairs.
A ferry bringing food so Scott won’t have to eat his neighbors

What attracted you to the medical laboratory field?

I enjoy the scientific aspect of the job. I had gone to school in Chemistry and enjoy the idea of being more pratical than theoretical in the medical lab field.

Once you started work as a med tech, did the work resemble what you’d imagined it to be, or was it a shock to move from school to the work force?

The largest mental adjustment was probably dealing with stressful real life situations as compared to fictious cases. As medical technologist, we see the good and bad of most if not all health cases that pass through a hospital. The training I was provided in school provided both a classroom setting and a practical setting to help bridge the gap between theory and work life. Also, an internship in the last few months of school helped to limit the shock. Of course, in real life work, things are not always ideal and you’re always learning about new things, new ways, and improving yourself everyday.
Med lab reality can get pretty gross

If you could go back to a med tech program where students are just starting the basic classes, what would you say to them?

I would honestly ask them if they are truly dedicated to patient care. Are they willing to work odd hours, weird shifts, weekends, holidays? The lab, as any other health profession, involves thinking about others more than oneself at times. You have to be willing to be flexible and available because in the end it is to help someone in need.

Lab Week Link Roundup

It’s that time of year again, where the laboratory professionals emerge from their basement lairs and sniff the air hoping to detect the scent of muffins brought in by glassware vendors.
I write about my work often on this blog, and I especially enjoy highlighting my profession during National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. It’s a profession that’s not well understood by most other healthcare employees, let alone the general public, and I feel that it’s important for me to educate more people about who laboratory professionals are and what they do.
I do have some new posts planned for Lab Week (April 22-26, so I guess the weekend techs get no respect this year, what’s up with THAT?), but because some folks might be coming here for the first time, I wanted to link back to some of my previous lab week posts so everyone has a chance to see them.
I’ve written about influenza testing, and how the doctor knows it’s the flu and not just a bad cold, and what doctors are looking for when they hand you a cup to pee into.
Someone asked me about all those different tubes they fill with blood when you go for a blood test, and so I wrote a little about the different tube types and what they’re used for. I took it a step further and explained what happens to the tubes once they get to a lab, getting into lab information systems and automation.
Because much of my lab career so far has been spent in the blood bank, I’ve also got a few posts out there about blood donation and what it’s like to see regular patients receiving that blood. For those interested in more of the science behind blood types and transfusion, I covered a little of that too.
Two years ago, I made a (very amateur) slide show detailing how important laboratory professionals are to the health care team, and what exactly it is we do all day. And night. And weekend. And holiday.
Not all lab work is hospital work – I will try to talk more about that this year, but for now, you can have a look at what my job in a manufacturing lab is like. 
I hope you enjoy reading a little about laboratory work. I like writing about my profession, and I’m never sure how much detail people want to see in my posts about it, so I’m always excited to have Lab Week come around to give me an excuse to geek out about it a little. There will be a few more posts up this week, so please come back!

In My Blood

In most other workplaces, a blood-spattered desk would be cause for a police investigation.

For me, it was just Friday.

Let’s just say that if blood or other bodily fluids and excretions bother you, you probably don’t want to pursue a career as a medical laboratory scientist.

But maybe you do want to pursue that path. Maybe you love medical science but aren’t masochistic enough to put yourself through medical school. Maybe you love helping sick people but don’t want to be anywhere near them while you do, because, frankly, they’re a little needy. Maybe you love biology and lab work, but don’t want to spend a lifetime begging for grant money to keep your cell cultures or graduate students fed. There’s hope for you yet! Stay tuned to find out how you too can have a vibrant healthcare career!

I know, that’s a ridiculous infomercial, but I feel like it’s my duty to promote my profession, because there are too few of us out there. We’re not well understood or respected. I want that to change. Everyone knows about doctors and nurses, but the third vital side of the healthcare triangle, the medical “techs”, live in relative obscurity.

The Board of Certification for medical technologists here in the US changed things up a couple of years ago and tried to give us more respect by changing our title from “Medical Technologist” to “Medical Laboratory Scientist”. It was a lovely gesture, but it didn’t really help. I mean, I didn’t get a raise or a talk show or anything, and I still get a blank stare and polite nod when I tell folks what I do. Although I think people picture a lab coat and some test tubes now, which is a little closer to right.

I write about my work sometimes on this blog, and last year, I wrote a series of posts here for Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. Some of them explain the science and techniques behind laboratory tests, and some of them are about my experiences in the various labs I’ve worked in. I would very much like to do that again this year as a way to raise awareness about the profession. I never heard about medical laboratory science careers until I was already through university with a Bachelors in Physiology and couldn’t find much to do with it. I hope that by writing about it here, I can make the profession just a little more visible, and maybe inspire someone to look into it as a career.

Even if I can’t inspire anyone to get into a lab career, maybe I can help people understand what the job is about. Why do you only have to fast sometimes before a blood test? What happens to a blood donation? How does blood tell the doctor how sick someone is? I’d love to make Medical Laboratory Professionals Week into a sort of Q&A session, but for that I will need your help. Does anyone have any Qs that I can A?

What do you think the job is? Have you ever heard of it before? What would you like to know about labs, blood, and medical tests? I’m getting started early this year because I want to collect questions and get to work answering them well. I want to give myself time to draw diagrams and take pictures and maybe even interview folks in different types of lab positions, so I can really do right by my profession and show off my colleagues as the caring, intelligent, dedicated people they are.

So, hit me with your questions, and I’ll do my best.