As an international laboratory consultant, there is never a dull moment. One minute you are working with energized people from another country engaged in spirited dialogue, learning and sharing experiences—and the next you are up very late with your team colleagues in a smoke-filled hotel lounge with multiple computers plugged into walls trying to capture information into an assessment template not designed for the technically challenged. It’s better than Sudoku for mental exercise!
I recall one trip where the biggest challenge was keeping our notes and information straight. We were scheduled to visit two laboratories on the same day; small but relatively full service labs, so there was much to review, discuss and digest in order to understand their capability and progress. Some people can type notes into a laptop, but I find that a pencil and paper are the most useful tools. Working with people, making eye contact and facilitating interactive discussion provides a backdrop for what you are able to observe. After a walk-through and overview, questions and comments, log reviews and notations it is imperative to elaborate on your notes and add comments immediately after an assessment visit. Believe me, after 6 laboratories in 4 days covering >1000 miles, they can very easily “all run together” if you are not careful and diligent. Laboratorians tend to be overly organized and a bit obsessive about documenting things—it’s the nature of the beast, since we live our career lives in data production and information dissemination—and it has to be correct, all the time, for every patient. I smile as I remember many nights on that trip with my ASCP colleague Wendy, plugged into the wall in a deserted hotel lobby and barely able to see the computer screens as we compared and contrasted assessment scores late into the night before getting up before dawn to take off and do it all over again. Well, it was all in a day’s work! She and I will both admit to wishing we’d had a little more sleep, and we would also tell you we wouldn’t have missed it!
So if you find yourself up late at night studying, preparing for a presentation, catching up on journals or even waiting for a teenager to get home at the appointed hour, I recommend keeping a hot cup of tea and some local chocolate near at hand. I can highly recommend chocolate from Kazakhstan, and also from Namibia— contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the name of my favorite brands. But even if you can’t read the label, the pictures are all you really need!