A Year in the Life of a Hematology Laboratory

As this year comes to a close and we look forward to celebrating holidays with family and friends, we can also celebrate our accomplishments over the year. Our jobs in the clinical laboratory are vital in helping physicians make clinical decisions and we should celebrate the role we play in healthcare. In hematology, techs are busy doing daily tasks; QC,maintenance, and analyzing all the samples that come into the lab, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We work constantly to provide physicians with accurate and precise results in a timely fashion. But, what else goes on in hematology?

This past year has seen many changes and challenges in our hematology lab. In February, we switched our hematology analyzer to a new Sysmex system,and went to autoverification at the same time. This was a process that had begun months before with meetings with the Sysmex team, building rules for WAM,validations, training key operators, as well as site surveys and actual planning for the location of the instrument and water and electrical connections. Before we went live, new procedures had to be written and all techs had to be trained on the new system. Every tech in the department had to do competencies, everything had to be documented and the new procedures had to be signed. This doesn’t stop once the instrument is in use. There has been a continual learning process since then as techs become more familiar with the system.

During all the excitement and work involved with a new instrument, we, as have many labs, have had turnover in staff which has led to its own challenges. Techs have retired, moved out of state, been on maternity leave and have left us for other opportunities both in other areas of our lab and elsewhere. New staff needs to be hired and trained. Students need mentors during their rotations. It’s a cycle we go through every year, a never ending process. And, no sooner had we seemed to have everyone trained, then it was time for 6 month validations and competencies.

In September we moved to new Coagulation instruments, which, fortunately, was not as big a change as our Sysmex analyzers, because the coag instruments are newer versions of instruments we already used. Yet, there were validations to be done, training to be done on the new software, and procedures to write, all at a time when we were about to go live with a new LIS!

Perhaps our biggest project of the year came to fruition in September when we moved to Epic for a hospital wide software system. This was an undertaking which was well over a year in the making. Again, this transition involved many months of meetings, working with Epic and our IT department to create test codes and profiles and to build the system to our needs. We worked with Sysmex and WAM support to verify that there would be a smooth transition from the old system to the new. The month before go live, we did wet and dry testing of every possible scenario and tested every rule in WAM. And then we tested every rule in Epic. Many hours and late nights were spent entering test orders, creating spreadsheets, taking screen shots, and going back and forth to IT for changes and updates. An integral part of this Epic journey was more training for employees. Superusers were trained, training sessions were held for all, and then superusers helped to support other users at Go Live. And, of course, all of this this meant more procedures had to be written. The epic day arrived, and though things didn’t seem too smooth at first, the support teams were and continue to be available to help and make changes as necessary.

These are just a few of our particular challenges this year in the department. Even without these added projects, though, there is a lot that goes into operating a hematology laboratory. Every week, every month and every year, there are ‘extra’ or ongoing projects to be completed in every laboratory department. While we had some major changes this year, there were also many smaller ones. There are always new pieces of equipment that need to be validated, and new procedures or job aids to be written. Quality control has to be monitored, calibrations have to be performed, new lots need to be entered and tested, linearities have to be done. CAP surveys need to be assigned,reviewed and submitted. Inventory needs to be taken, vendors need to be met with or contacted and supplies need to be ordered. Equipment repairs ,troubleshooting and maintenance all need to be addressed. Training doesn’t stop at new hires and students. All techs have to complete annual competencies. Every year instruments have to be validated, new lot crossovers have to be done, and all procedures must be reviewed and updated. We need to get ready for inspections, or perform self-inspections. I’m sure I am leaving out a list of things, but this is a brief overview of all that goes into laboratory operations. It’s certainly more than just analyzing samples!

Who does all these ‘behind the scenes’ tasks? The department supervisor or technical specialist may be designated to make sure these are all completed, but often senior techs or career ladder techs can play an important role in meeting all these requirements. Many hospitals now have career ladders that allow techs to use the designation MLS II or III or MLT II or III. Our laboratory started such a program this year. For anyone interested in moving up the career ladder in their laboratory, there are many opportunities to be involved in lab operations and management. All the tasks that are required to run a lab cannot be done by one person alone. Tier program requirements differ from hospital to hospital but may ask candidates to submit a tier application and complete a list of achievements to show their commitment to the laboratory and their community before being designated a tier II or III.

Tier techs are generally required to meet education and certification requirements. They should be pro-active performers who are seen as leaders with excellent customer service skills. A tier level tech is a proficient performer with strong critical thinking and problem solving skills. They are mentors to coworkers and can train staff and perform competencies. Hospitals often look to these techs to contribute to the growth of the profession outside of the lab, as well. Being laboratory science community ambassadors, performing community service and upholding the mission and values of your facility all constitute qualities a hospital looks for in a tier tech.

Does this sound like you? We are constantly in need of techs to aspire to working in supervisory positions and management. With an increase in age of supervisors, managers and administrators, we are seeing an increase in retirements. We need more techs doing routine bench work to take the initiative and the steps to become tier techs and lead techs. We need aspiring supervisors and managers. Why wait? I encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution to seek out your facility’s tier or career ladder program. If one doesn’t exists, make it a project to see if one can be introduced!

Laboratories are often hidden in the basement, out of sight of visitors and out of mind of the general public. When we mention we work in a hospital, people ask “Are you a nurse?” Even though we may not be a well-known profession, we are a very important group of dedicated scientists and can be very proud of our accomplishments and contributions. I thank my supervisor and mentor, Gene Galligan, for her encouragement and support of the tier program and for all the things she has taught me in this very busy year.

PS: As I wrote this, The Joint Commission team arrived to start their accreditation process. There is never a dull moment in the laboratory!

Happy New Year!

-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM BB CM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 30 years. She’s worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.

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