Health & Safety

April 19, 2013

Laboratory professionals get results

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Tech Sgt. Elizabeth Ehrnschwender
99th Medical Support Squadron

Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Ehrnschwender, 99th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of microbiology, isolates colonies of bacteria for identification purposes April 10 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. April 22-26 is Medical Laboratory Professional’s Week. Since laboratory professionals often work behind the scenes, few people know about the medical testing they perform every day.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Lab rats, bloodhounds, and vampires … these are a few of the nicknames laboratory technicians hear on a daily basis.

To recognize and celebrate the work that goes on in this often underappreciated and overlooked medical field National Laboratory Professionals Week is April 22 -26.

When people think about the medical laboratory, they picture having their blood drawn; however, there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes.

The laboratory at Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center has eight distinct departments that include chemistry, hematology, blood bank, and microbiology. A team of 60 active-duty service members and civilians staff the laboratory, which is the busiest in the Air Force.

The staff performs approximately 1.1 million tests per year, utilizing high-complexity analyzers valued at more than $2.5 million, and serves a patient population of more than 48,000.

Adam Wen and Senior Airman Aleza Chan, 99th Medical Support Squadron hematology technicians, analyze pictures of white blood cells April 10 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The photos of white blood cells are analyzed to check for any abnormalities that may be present. Abnormalities in white blood cells can indicate different types of diseases.

Because the laboratory staff sees patients of all ages, staff members receive specialized training in a variety of specimen collection techniques. During their 13-month technical training school, laboratory technicians-in-training perfect their phlebotomy techniques, as well as learn how to operate state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, perform quality control, and become experts in processing dozens of different sample types.

In addition to taking care of patients, the laboratory staff also works hard to support their other customers, the hospital’s 480 plus medical providers.

The laboratory is able to give doctors vital insight into their patients’ health and wellness by offering and performing a wide variety of tests in house. According to Maj. (Dr.) Mark Hubbell, medical director, doctors make about 70 percent of their treatment decisions based on lab results; their work is essential to confirming diagnoses.

Laboratory testing can diagnose a variety of ailments, from common issues such as urinary tract infections and high cholesterol to more serious problems like leukemia and other cancers. Because of the critical nature of this work, the laboratory is subject to inspection by several national agencies including the College of American Pathologists and the Food and Drug Administration making it one of the most-inspected and regulated areas of the hospital.

Medical laboratory technicians perform critical testing behind the scenes every day. Let this week be an opportunity to recognize their dedication to their patients and their commitment to excellence. The theme of this year’s Lab Week sums it up well — “laboratory professionals get results!”




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