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April 24, 2007 > Accuracy and Attention to Detail are Their Calling Cards

Accuracy and Attention to Detail are Their Calling Cards

Medical Laboratory Professionals Play an Important Role in Hospital Care

You may never see them, but these professionals play an important part every day in the patient care at Washington Hospital. They are medical laboratory professionals.
National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (NMLPW), recognized April 22-28 this year, is a time of recognition for the approximately 265,000 medical laboratory professionals and 15,000 board-certified pathologists who play a vital role in every aspect of health care, according to the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
In 2006, after 30 years of being called "National Medical Laboratory Week," the name of the observance was changed to reflect the fact that a laboratory is more "people" than a "place," the ASCP states.
Washington Hospital this month recognizes the 75 professionals, including clinical lab scientists and phlebotomists, as well as other support staff employed in its Laboratory Services Department.
"The laboratory department plays an integral part in making diagnoses, as well as determining treatments and monitoring the effectiveness of treatments," according to Mary Reynolds, Washington Hospital's Director of Laboratory Services. "When someone is admitted to the hospital for care, we generally touch them at least once during their visit, depending on what they're here for. They don't see the actual lab scientist; they usually see the phlebotomist."
Solving medical mysteries
Although many of the laboratory professionals may operate behind the scenes, their role is vital to the patients and caregivers in the hospital. The lab professionals at Washington Hospital are responsible for:
* Drawing and collecting samples, such as blood, for analysis
* Analyzing blood and body fluids for drugs and various chemical elements
* Screening white and red blood cells for the presence or absence of disease
* Determining if a particular treatment is effective
* Monitoring levels of therapeutic drugs
* Testing for psychoactive drugs
* Performing biopsies on tissue to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancerous)
Clinical laboratory scientists are the professionals at the core of the medical laboratory. These professionals, who must earn a bachelor's degree, complete a one-year internship and pass a licensing exam, perform testing on the various specimens that are sent to the lab by physicians and other medical professionals in the hospital.
There are different specializations within the profession, including chemical analysis of drugs and blood; cellular analysis; and microbiology, which focuses on bacteria and infectious diseases.
On the front-end are the professionals that patients usually encounter in the hospital setting. The phlebotomists are responsible for gathering the specimens from the patients and preparing them for analysis by the clinical lab scientist. In addition to having a GED or high school diploma, phlebotomists must complete an accredited phlebotomist program, usually a one-semester certificate or diploma, as well as licensure.
Speed, accuracy, teamwork
"In the lab, we have to perform the work in timely manner, but it also has to be accurate, and there's a high stress to achieve both of those things - accuracy and speed," Reynolds says.
Successful lab professionals, especially clinical laboratory scientists, she says, must be highly organized, efficient, conscientious, and have a passion for details.
"Lab professionals must have good analytical skills and have the ability to keep various facts in their minds simultaneously," Reynolds says. "They have to look at various results and make a decision whether those results are correct or not and evaluate the answers that the machines give them by weighing the information against their training and knowledge base."
Many of Washington Hospital's lab employees have been working in the department for as long as 20, 25, 30 and 35 years, which Reynolds in part attributes to a high level of professional pride.
"There's a lot of teamwork that takes place in the lab," she says. "People here have a sense of professional responsibility, a pride in what they're doing. They understand their role in the care of the patient and that the patient always comes first. Our goal is that we provide timely and accurate answers to the physician to care for the patient."
Even though they are not on the patient floors with the nurses and doctors, Reynolds feels strongly that Washington Hospital's Laboratory Services professionals play just as important of a role: "I think we are a large part of the team that cares for the patient in the hospital. We're applying scientific methods to improve each patient's care."
To learn more about services and programs at Washington Hospital, visit and click on "Services & Programs," or tune into Comcast Channel 78 - InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel.
To see current employment opportunities with Washington Hospital Healthcare System, visit and click on "Careers."

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