Under a microscope: Medical Laboratory Professionals Week

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U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Nathan Byrnes
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Medical Laboratory Professionals Week kicked off for the men and women of the 99th Medical Support Squadron’s Laboratory Pathology Flight on April 25. This week provides the profession with a unique opportunity to increase public understanding of, and appreciation for, laboratory personnel and the dedicated efforts of laboratory professionals that often go unnoticed by the general public.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Medical Laboratory Professionals Week kicked off for the men and women of the 99th Medical Support Squadron’s Laboratory Pathology Flight on April 25.

This week provides the profession with a unique opportunity to increase public understanding of, and appreciation for, laboratory personnel and the dedicated efforts of laboratory professionals that often go unnoticed by the general public.

Often working behind closed doors, with little interaction with the patients they serve, the clinical laboratory at the 99th Medical Group plays a vital role in patient care within the health care system.

The laboratory at the 99th MDG is made up of several sections: Hematology, Phlebotomy, Microbiology, Histology, Chemistry, Urinalysis, Transfusion Services, Point of Care Testing, Central Processing and Shipping. Each section performs a wide variety of complex testing to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other specimens that are crucial in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The majority of patient interaction with the laboratory is with the phlebotomy section, as they provide the important role of being the ‘face’ of the lab.

“You have to be the consummate professional because you are representing the department and the hospital,” said Dove Hallstrom, 99th MDSS phlebotomist. “We are the lab, as far as the patient is concerned, because that is as far as they ever see. If we don’t do our job properly, everyone else is messed up, everybody else is delayed. If we do our job like the experts and professionals that we are, it helps to facilitate patient care.”

Hallstrom, a retired Air Force laboratory technician, uses her military experience and knowledge as a lab tech to be a ‘bridge’ between the different departments of the lab and to assist the flow of communication.

While patients only see the phlebotomy department, there is much more going on behind the scenes within the laboratory that patients don’t get to see, and each is just as important as the other.

“Working in the laboratory is so much more than just ‘pushing buttons’ on the analyzers,’” said Vivian B. Candelario, 99th MDSS Hematology laboratory technician. “Laboratory technicians actually perform detailed quality control, maintenance procedures and troubleshooting on the analyzers. We have to be able to interpret the results from the analyzer to ensure accuracy and reliability. Medical Technologists, like myself, must have a Bachelor’s degree and be board certified as well.”

“Every lab technician undergoes a rigorous training process in each area of the lab and their competence in performing procedures must be assessed before they can work in the sections,” said Candelario.

For example, the hematology section is just one section, but it requires the knowledge of many scientific disciplines. The individuals that work in the hematology section must have an understanding of immunology, hematology, molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, and pathophysiology. The same principle applies to each section of the clinical laboratory.

“Patient laboratory results play a vital role with diagnosis,” said Tamisha Cherry, 99th MDSS Blood Bank medical laboratory technician. “Hematology provides Hemoglobin, Hematocrit, Platelet Count, Platelet Count, Prothrombin time/international normalized ratio, Partial Thromboplastin and other coagulation studies that help determine what types of products to transfuse and how much is needed. Chemistry tests for bilirubin and haptoglobin, and urinalysis tests for microscopic red cells. These tests aid in assessing if a transfusion reaction has occurred.”

It is these kinds of tests that have to be precise and accurate, and have no room for failure, as it is vital to the patient’s health.

“The Transfusion Service performs routine and compatibility testing to support the transfusion needs of a number of specialty services, including surgery, obstetrics, and emergency transfusions,” said Cherry. “We provide products to save the patient’s life.”

Even though each section is specialized in the tests they perform, all of the lab sections work together to provide the best patient care.

“Many of our staff are trained to work in multiple sections within the laboratory and when staffing is short in one section, staff is moved around to ensure adequate coverage,” said Rocky Crawford, 99th MDSS chemistry technical supervisor. “In the chemistry section, we share information concerning the condition of specimens. We alert the other sections if there is a problem with the quality of a specimen which could affect the accuracy of results.

“For, example, if chemistry receives a specimen that is hemolyzed, we will notify the hematology department of this as the hemolysis may also be present in the hematology specimen, and the results they obtain could be adversely affected,” said Crawford.

It’s obvious that the professionals in the clinical lab enjoy their job and care about their patients, making sure they get the best care by providing quick and accurate test results.

The Airmen and civilians that work in the 99th MDSS Laboratory deliver world-class support and should be highlighted year round as their vast training and knowledge lead to the timely and accurate dissemination of vital information to physicians that helps save lives.

“Truth be told, physicians rely on the lab results to be able to effectively diagnose and treat patients. Lab techs are the ‘behind the scenes’ partners of physicians,” said Candelario.

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