Tag Archives: science

balloon made of nitrile glove

Nine Exciting Med Tech Alternative Careers

Whether you’re calling yourself a medical laboratory technologist or clinical laboratory scientist or any combination of those, let’s face it: you’re likely underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated by the rest of the healthcare team. In honor of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 24-30, 2016, I’ve come up with a helpful list of part-time jobs that med techs can sign up for on their days off to bring in a little extra money. After all, we’ve got an impressive skill set thanks to our laboratory training! You never know when you may need one of these med tech alternative careers to bring in a little extra money.


1. Large Appliance Mechanic

maintenance on beckman lab instruments

The instruments are always down, and you’re always neck-deep inside one trying to figure out what’s stuck where. Why restrict yourself to chemistry analyzers and hematology counters when those same skills can probably dislodge stray forks from a dishwasher?

2. Shelf Stocker

shelf full of laboratory reagents

Everything is labeled, facing front, tagged with expiration dates and segregated by lot number. The grocery store will never be the same once you’re done with them. As far as med tech alternative careers go, this one’s a no-brainer. You can even work overnights!

3. Flower Arranger

plastic beaker full of pipettes

You can fit one more carnation in there. And a fern. Keep jamming.

4. Crime Scene Cleanup Technician

blood cleanup with bleach

It’s disturbing how quickly you can jump in with advice when someone asks how to get blood out of clothes.

 


5. Balloon Artist

balloon made of nitrile glove

They work well as water balloons too. Don’t ask me how I know. What happens during lab week stays in lab week.

6. Extremely Patient Phone Customer Service Representative

lab phone call

Yes, your specimen is hemolyzed. No, it was definitely like that when we got it. And no, we can’t run it anyway. No, we don’t hemolyze it just because we don’t like you. We’d use those laser-eyes for much better things if we had them, trust us.

7. Timekeeper

laboratory timers

Bake cookies in four different ovens. Sit in a hairdresser’s and monitor how long the dye’s been on whom. Stand by the track at the Olympics and time the bobsleds.1

8. Barista for Blood Cafe

pouring blood

Depending on whose blood you’ve got, it’s pretty lowfat, and I can definitely give you extra foam.

9. That Guy Who Writes Names On Grains Of Rice

labeled tubes sharpie

We know that anything fatter than an ultra-fine Sharpie doesn’t deserve the pocket space. Years of teeny tiny writing on tubes, labels, and badly-designed downtime worksheets means that we’ve perfected the skill of fitting our initials and the date (and more) into microscopic spaces.


Happy Lab Week to all my fellow lab rats. May your QC always be in range and may your STATs be few.


1 True story: I bought myself a lab-style timer for my kitchen, because I’m so well-conditioned that I can’t help but respond immediately to the beeping. And multiple channels are so incredibly useful when I’m cooking and have one thing on the stovetop and one in the oven and need to keep track of them both.

Many thanks to my lab friends for helping me with the photos for this post.

Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and you can read more about that here. I only ever link to products I love and recommend.

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?

Professionalism

A friend recently pointed me to this article about the professional responsibility and ethics that come into play when a healthcare professional is faced with treating a patient in a way that goes against their own beliefs. Since I’m a member of one of those professions, I thought I’d share my perspective.

When you commit yourself to a healthcare career, you don’t have much control over what kinds of patients you will see. Yes, a doctor can choose to specialize in obstetrics or urology, and a nurse can choose to work at a retirement home because he or she doesn’t like dealing with children. But you don’t get to decide what kind of care your patients will get based on their politics, their religion, or their life choices. You can encourage a patient to quit smoking, but you can’t give someone subpar care for their emphysema even if you feel, deep inside, that they brought it upon themselves.

Doctors take an oath to do no harm, and while I don’t know if others in the healthcare professions do the same, I can say that the overwhelming majority of those I’ve known in those positions take immense pride in their work and treat all patients with great care and respect. Those who triage their patients by anything other than medical urgency quickly lose the respect of their peers. Or they lose their jobs.

That’s why it bothers me when I read things like this, from Twitter right after the Boston Marathon suspect was taken to the hospital:

Now that the 2nd suspect is caught and in the hospital, what’s preventing a Doctor/Nurse from injecting “go fuck yourself” serum?

Frankly, the very concept is offensive to me, and I think I speak for the vast majority of medical and allied health professionals. Of course the medical team isn’t going to enjoy some vigilante justice and “accidentally” give him the wrong care to watch him die. And that’s not just because so many people are watching, or because the police have instructed them to keep him alive. It’s their job to keep him alive. Every single person who comes through those doors will be given 100% of their effort, because that’s how a trauma emergency room works. It doesn’t matter if you’re a four-year-old who was hit by a car, or the drunk driver who hit him. You’re a broken body, and they will do everything they can to put you back together.

I had a colleague who once told me that the lab he worked in years ago used to receive and test specimens from smaller medical facilities every day, because the smaller places didn’t have labs of their own. When he found out that one of them was an abortion clinic, he refused to have anything to do with those specimens, saying that running the tests would go against his religious beliefs. He’d have had nothing at all to do with the actual abortion process, mind you. The specimens he would have been testing would have been for the women’s blood counts and chemistries: tests no different from what you’d have done at your annual physical. Astonishingly, his coworkers and employer had no problem with his decision, and accommodated him. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen at our current employer if he was faced with a similar situation. We didn’t deal with abortion clinics, but we did have several operating rooms and sometimes there were D&C’s on the operating schedule – with no way to know whether they were being done after miscarriages or planned abortions, would he refuse to crossmatch blood for those patients if they hemorrhaged on the table? To be fair, I never saw him refuse any specimen while I worked with him, so maybe his attitudes had changed by then. I didn’t probe further, because an ideological debate has a right time and a right place, and an evening shift in a busy laboratory is neither of those things.

The fact remains, though, that he did refuse care to patients based on a conflict between their decisions and his religious beliefs. It wasn’t direct care, it wasn’t emergency life-saving care, but it was still a massive breach of professionalism. And he got away with it. No disciplinary action, no reminder that a patient is a patient and a test is a test and you don’t get to choose like that.

I’m equally appalled by pharmacists who refuse to dispense the legal, FDA-approved Plan B contraceptive pill despite the patient’s valid prescription. Like my former coworker, they get away with it. As long as someone else can fill the prescription, they can keep their conscience clean. And I think that’s bullshit. Pure, unadulterated bullshit. Your obligation as a pharmacist is to dispense medications to patients. You don’t get to decide not to give out Plan B because you’re opposed to the idea, just like you can’t refuse someone their diabetes pills because you think they should be exercising more and eating better, and you don’t want to be an enabler. If you want to be a pharmacist and you want to avoid ever having to give out contraceptives, go work in hospice care or geriatrics.

It’s simple. You have an obligation, when you work in health care, to do your absolute best for each and every patient you interact with. If you’re not able and willing to do that, because your personal beliefs get in the way, then you need to find a new job.