Hemoglobin Electorphoresis in Children

This last month, I rotated through our Children’s hospital, which included reviewing hemoglobin electrophoresis tests. I’d learned about them before in residency, but they can be quite more interesting (complicated) than I expected.

Hemoglobin electrophoresis is a blood test to look at different types of hemoglobin to determine if there are any abnormalities. In a children’s hospital it is frequently ordered as a reflex for an abnormal newborn screen or when a child is incidentally found to be anemic. The test is performed in 2 stages. 1st lysed blood samples are run on gel electrophoresis and different types of hemoglobin are separated as they move at different speeds. Several types of hemoglobin will run within the same region, so a secondary method of separation is always employed.

Below, you can see how some bands in the same area of an acidic gel (agarose) are actually very different on the alkaline gel (cellulose acetate) and vice versa.

At our hospital, we use HPLC and measure retention times of the hemolysate to quantify and identify different hemoglobin types present. As a basic primer you should recall that hemoglobin is a tetramer with a pair of alpha globin + a pair of either beta, delta or gamma globin (each separate genes).

Alternative hemoglobins are enriched in populations where malaria is endemic as these variants may provide improved fitness by promoting resistance to the malarial parasite that reproduces inside red blood cells. Thus, many people of African or south east Asian descent may carry these variants.

Our case is that of a 2 year old girl with anemia who had testing sent by her primary care doctor for the following CBC:

This is indicative of microcytic anemia, but unlike some Thalessemias the RBC isn’t very high. More on this later.

Looking at the gel result, there is a large band in the area coinciding with Hgb C. We also see the normal Hgb A2 and a small amount of Hgb F. We know Hgb F can be increased in Hgb SS and thus could also be present if she had Hgb C trait or disease.

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Looking at the next HPLC result, we see there is a similar very high level of Hgb C (68%) with corresponding levels of Hgb F and Hgb A2 (note: acetylated Hgb F and Hgb F are added together). Thus, this fits with a homozygous C with some compensatory A1 and F, right?

Remember Hgb C is a β -globin variant and you only have 2 β -globin genes, so if you are homozygous for the C variant on the β-globin gene (HBB), then Hgb A1, which is made of normal β-globin would be impossible to produce. Also you might be bothered by all of these small peaks. However, there are often small peaks that can’t be definitively identified and are likely post-translationally modified hemoglobin. But in the context of an abnormal Hgb A1 that shouldn’t be there, we dug deeper.

One of the most common hemoglobinopathies is Beta Thalassemia (β-Thal), which clinically manifests when less of the beta hemoglobin protein is produced. Heterozygous mutations lead to Beta Thalassemia minor with minimal symptoms, while homozygous mutations lead to β-thal major with symptoms of anemia. Mutations in the β -globin gene, HBB, can lead to complete loss of β-globin (β0 variant) or partial of β-globin (β+ variant).

As this patient has less than 50% of Hgb A present (expected amount), they could also have a β+ variant as well. This would make them compound heterozygous for C and β+.

One of the hallmarks of Thalassemia is an increase in Hgb A2 (normal 2.5-3.5%). Hemoglobin A2 is a normal variant of A that is composed of two alpha and two delta chains (δ2α2). We see in our case that the Hgb A2 is normal at 2.5%. So it seems the patient doesn’t display a typical Thalassemia picture.

One condition that could create this scenario is if there is a variant in the delta chain of A2 that causes it to elute differently. Indeed, there is a delta variant that creates hemoglobin A2 prime (A2’) that moves near the S region of the HPLC. And when we look back at our unknown hemoglobins, Hgb X is marked at 1.03 of the S region and has an abundance of 3.9%. This supports it being the Hgb A2’ and if we add this together with the Hgb A2 we get an elevated 6.6% A2 total, which would be consistent with Beta Thalassemia. Lastly, one would wonder if we could find this third hemoglobin variant A2’ on the alkaline gel. Previous studies have shown the A2’ variant is more negatively charged, so on a basic gel, it should move further from the negative anode than the other hemoglobins. We don’t see anything to the left of the HgbC, but if we flip the gel over and look under the patient label, you can see a faint band that is likely the A2’!

In summary this case arose from 3 separate mutations in a single patient. She was compound heterozygous for a Hgb C and β+ variants in the β-globin gene and she was heterozygous for an A2’ variant on the delta-globin gene.  This was certainly a case where paying close attention mattered.

References:

  1. Abdel-Gadir D, Phelan L, and Bain BJ. Haemoglobin A2′ and its significance in beta thalassaemia diagnosis. Int J Lab Hematol. 2009 Jun;31(3):315-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-553X.2008.01038.x. Epub 2008 Feb 21.
  2. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/beta-thalassemia

-Dr. Charles Timmons MD PhD is a pediatric pathologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX. His responsibilities include signing out hemoglobin electrophoresis, HPLC and globin sequencing, and has been residency director for 17 years.

-Jeff SoRelle, MD is a Chief Resident of Pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX. His clinical research interests include understanding how the lab intersects with transgender healthcare and improving genetic variant interpretation.

Fighting Fire with Fire

In 1939, the first issue of Marvel Comics introduced the original Human Torch, an android named Jim Hammond who would burst into flames when exposed to oxygen. Fourteen years before that, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week to commemorate the Chicago fire of 1871 which killed over 300 people 54 years earlier. In that entire span of 68 years, from 1871 to 1939, over 17,000 people died in fires in the United States. Because of fire awareness campaigns over the years, the number of home and work place deaths have greatly decreased, and the risk of fire in your lab goes down when fire safety awareness increases as well.

In the laboratory, fire safety begins with a look at the physical environment. It is important to make sure the department is set up to prevent a fire from starting and to keep one from spreading if a fire ignites. The electrical wiring in the lab plays a large part in fire safety. Frayed cords are the number one cause of laboratory fires, and daisy-chained extension cords or multi-plug adaptors are fire hazards as well. Damaged outlets can also present danger. Because equipment may move often in the environment, it is a good idea to check for safety in the lab electrical set up regularly. In audits I have performed this year alone, I have discovered three damaged electrical cords just waiting to cause a fire. Things change rapidly in the lab physical environment, so looking for these potential safety issues is vital.

The next aspect of the lab physical layout that needs attention is flammable chemical storage. There are complicated regulations about that, and multiple classes of flammable liquids, but you can simplify storage rules to make it easy to understand. In general, there should be no more than one gallon of a flammable liquid out in the lab per every 100 square feet. If there are automatic sprinklers in the department, that amount can go up to two gallons. If safety cans are used, the amount can be doubled again. Any excess volume of flammable liquids should be stored inside of a flammable safety cabinet with self-closing doors. Remember, the point of these storage limits is so that if a fire occurs, there is not a large amount of flammable material in one location. That slows the spread of the fire and allows automatic fire extinguishing systems to be able to perform their job effectively.

Fire-fighting equipment should be available as well, and staff are required to have training to use that equipment if it is available in the department. The best training includes a regular hands-on return demonstration and periodic fire drills. Making sure staff can use fire extinguishers and know how to respond to a fire situation may be the one of the most important safety training policies you can implement. Fire blankets are typically not required per local fire code, but if they are in place, be sure staff is aware of how to use them should the need arise.

The last actions in a departmental fire situation include evacuating and preventing the spread of the fire. To that end, it is important to keep aisles clear and wide for safe travel, and all exit routes and stairwells should be checked to make sure no obstructions exist. Staff should be aware of their primary and secondary evacuation routes, and all exits should be adequately marked. Make sure employees know to close fire and smoke doors during a fire situation.

Even in modern times there are structure fires in the work place, and unfortunately, laboratories are not excluded from that list. The Human Torch could catch fire and not get burned, but we all know that is science fiction, and burns from a fire are no joke. The best practice is to be prepared for a fire-provide training, conduct physical environment rounds, and run drills often. That will protect your staff and make you a true safety super hero.

Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

Making Meetings Matter

Hello again everyone!

I’m writing to you now back in Manhattan after visiting sunny Phoenix, AZ for this year’s ASCP Annual Meeting. Last month I talked about downtime, pathology emergencies, and introduced you all to our insightful and dynamic colleague, Jalissa Hall. It was great working with her and one of the last things we talked about was getting to go to professional society meetings. We also talked about the upcoming meeting next year in Austin, TX! And that’s exactly what I’d like to talk about with you this time: why going to meetings like ASCP is not only educational, but an excellent way to network with your laboratorian peers from around the country.

Image 1a. My wife and I made it to the Phoenix Hyatt Regency on registration day! ASCP swag on, obviously.
Image 1b. Behind the Scenes – Hosting the ASCP 2019 Facebook Live broadcast with two fantastic colleagues, Dr. K. Mirza and Dr. A. Booth! Did you catch us? But more about social media later…

I couldn’t go to every single session—there’s just too many—but I did learn so much valuable, practical information at the educational sessions. Here are just a mere few insights from the long list of fantastic speakers I had the chance to visit!

I participated in an interactive session on the ASCP/CAP/ASH guidelines for lymphoma workup…

Figure 1. All the multidisciplinary expertise must go through rigorous adjustment and evaluation all the way throughout the process of seeking out and publishing proper guidelines. (Source: ASCP 2019 session 5007-19; Kroft, S., Sever, C., and Cheung, M.)

Drs. Kroft, Sever, and Cheung discussed updates from the WHO 2016 guidelines as well as relating any changes in concurrent literature to appropriate diagnostic accuracy with evidence-based guidelines. If it sounds familiar, it’s because I talked about these guidelines a few months ago! In my month clerkship at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN I presented a therapy-related AML case in the setting of Li-Fraumeni disorder. In my discussion I stressed the utility and importance of having organized and algorithmic guidelines to diagnose patients accurately, effectively, and timely. This time, instead of just talking about the guidelines, I got to listen to some of the folks who actually put them together—and, according to them, it’s no easy task!

I learned about culturally appropriate leadership training…

Figure 2. The panelists each had something insightful and moving to contribute to this wonderful discussion on female empowerment in our profession, and ultimately how it relates to improving patient care! (Source: ASCP 2019 session 8012-19; Mulder, L., Upton, M., Vuhahula, E., Abedl AlThagafi, M., Papas, F., and Sanford, K.)

This year’s ASCP president, Dr. Melissa Upton moderated this fantastic panel and opened with an old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This was definitely a theme for each of the mini-sessions’ discussions. ASCP’s own Lotte Mulder discussed her research on culturally applicable leadership training using her Leadership Institute Initiative. She talked about countries that are culturally different and developmentally different up and down the spectrum can all benefit from leadership development and opportunity. Next came Dr. Edda Vuhahula, an accomplished physician, educator, and advocate in Tanzania. She related her experiences of women in leadership roles, and challenges on the horizon as more women rise to these positions every day. Dr. Malak Abed AlThagafi talked about her “hats:” as an entrepreneur, a medical director, and a researcher in her whirlwind story of empowerment and accomplishment. Finally, medical laboratory scientist and former Philippine Army colonel, Filipinas Papas gave her personal perspectives on sexism, education, bias, and opportunity.

Celebrated my colleagues and my contributions to the 6th Choosing Wisely list of recommendations…

Figure 3. My totally biased favorite slide from Dr. Lee H. Hilbourne, chair of the ASCP Effective Test Utilization Steering Committee. It’s an honor to be included in this year’s list, alongside so many accomplished contributors.

The Choosing Wisely initiative, partnering with the American Board of Internal Medicine and many other specialty organizations, is one of my favorite programs at ASCP. To date, our lab medicine organization has the highest number of effective test utilization recommendations. ASCP seeks active contributions to our expanding lists of recommendations to eliminate wasteful, unnecessary testing and to improve patient outcomes. This talk was also a great opportunity to honor the ASCP 2019 Choosing Wisely Champions: Dr. Gary W. Procop from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Lucy Nam from the Inova Lab best practice team, and Dr. Alyssa Ziman from UCLA Health. Want to read the most updated list of recommendations ASCP made to the Choosing Wisely initiative?

Check it out here: https://www.ascp.org/content/docs/default-source/get-involved-pdfs/istp_choosingwisely/2019_ascp-30-things-list.pdf

I watched some cutting-edge exchanges about cellular therapy…

Image 2. Here I am with laboratorian S. Malakian and Dr. Gastineau with The Mayo Clinic after they discussed the future of complex cell therapies.

One really effective take-home message from this seminar was that, if we’re going to rely on cellular therapy in the future—especially as it relates to “individualized medicine”—then who do you think should be in charge? Who’s got the most experience and knowledge when it comes to cell storage, transfusion protocol, patient outcomes, and high reliability? Short answer: it’s us. Long answer: go back and check out a piece I wrote about high-stakes responsibility in and out of the lab!

Popped into fascinating hematologic cases at our neighboring SHEAHP2019 meeting…

Listen, I like hematopathology, I’ll be the first to tell you that. There were so many people giving presentations in this near standing-room-only meeting, that I recognized from papers, abstracts, and journals that I’ve read in the past year alone! There were so many interesting sessions at this meeting, I wish I could have seen more…

Image 3. Here’s Dr. J. Dalland from Mayo Clinic Pathology discussing a lymphoproliferative disorder with associated eosinophilia. These talks go deep into morphology and photypic patterns, so that Hemepath colleagues have a chance to assess their workup and protocols. It’s also great learning for avoiding pitfalls—this case shows architectural changes in lymph nodes which could cause someone to misdiagnose!

Learned how to create an impactful dialogue with patients directly…

What do you do as a pathologist when a patient wants to speak to you? Yes, you. Not a typo! This was the last talk I went to and it was a great way to close out this awesome conference.

Image 4. Me with (left to right) Dr. K. Sanford from VCU, Patient Champion Anthony Reed, Dr. M. Sitorius from the University of Nebraska, and M. Mitchell. All of these individuals had amazing things to say about bridging the gap between the bench and the bedside!

In their own ways these patient advocates demonstrated that if you want to represent our lab profession as one of accuracy, answers, and hope, we’ve got the skills and resources to do it! Dr. Sanford sees so many patients in her transfusion services and discusses their care plans regularly. Mr. Reed is an ASCP patient champion who, after being diagnosed with ESRD, became a learned lab ally. Dr. Sitorius is a family medicine physician at a pathology conference, talking about empathy and connection! Ms. Mitchell has done fantastic work with her pathology colleagues after beating cancer and fighting for patient education every day! These folks have taken our field of laboratory medicine to its outer edges, touching patients’ lives directly—and I left energized to take it further in the future.

And of course, I learned so much about the utilization of social media as a practical tool for education, advocacy, and outreach…

I can’t list every single session, lecture, keynote, presentation, or panel in this article. This was just a glimpse of what meetings like this have to offer. You will learn, obviously, but you’ll also gain access to new perspectives and meet people who reinvigorate your passion for your profession in ways you didn’t even consider. One of the most fulfilling experiences of this meeting was being on the ASCP Social Media Team! Posting to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with the hashtags #ASCP2019, #ASCPSoMeTeam, or the scavenger hunt #ASCPiSpy was a great way to bolster our enthusiastic network. This was my third ASCP Annual Meeting, and I met so many wonderful people I can’t wait for the next one! Here’s a few of my favorite snaps from the meeting:

Image 5. Here’s part of our amazing #SocialMediaTeam: (left to right) A. Odegard from Baptist Health, myself, Dr. S. Mukhopadhyay from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. A. Booth from the University of Texas, and Dr. K. Mirza from Loyola Chicago!
Image 6. At my first ASCP meeting in California, Jeff Jacobs, ASCP’s Chief Science Officer, gave me some of the best advice for my own personal and professional growth, “Stay Humble” he told me. Nearly 5 years later, he added “Don’t Give Up” on goals, yourself, or anything in life. You can’t pick that up in a path review book. I feel lucky to know people like him.
Image 7. #SoMe FTW (Social Media for the win!) At this great talk, Dr. C. Arnold, Dr. L. Shirley, and Dr. D. Gray III, all from the Ohio State University discussed how to use social media to build a reputation and expand your impact as a pathologist, educator, and advocate!
Image 8: Conferences are a great time to run into old friends and colleagues whom you may have spent a month rotating with! If you read about my time at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, Drs. O. Olayinka and G. Kuar were part of it and I’m glad to call them friends!
Image 9: Presented by the ASCP Resident and Pathologist Councils, this was a great networking session to discuss fellowships, employment, and how to plan for the first 100 days of working in laboratory medicine from PGY-1 and on! I certainly learned a lot!
Image 10: (left to right) Dr. K. Chaztopoulos from the Mayo Clinic, myself, and K.C. Booth, RN in front of his finalist poster in the scientific category! Another valuable professional connection and friend made through my experiences in laboratory medicine.
Image 11. When one of your mentors (Dr. K. Mirza) is signing copies of The Pathologist magazine that featured him on the cover, you get in line for one …obviously.
Image 12. Dr. M. Upton is an inspirational speaker and insightful individual both on stage and in person. She had words of encouragement for my upcoming residency interview season and made sure I felt I could rely on ASCP for whatever I needed professionally. Thank you, Dr. Upton!
Image 13. Some more colleagues from Mayo Clinic Pathology (left to right): Dr. A. Ravindran, Dr. D. Larson, Dr. J. Dalland, and myself. These folks were very busy with all the great hematology sessions at the SHEAHP2019 meeting.
Image 14: No ASCP Annual Meeting would be complete without the leadership, passion, and vision of our CEO Dr. Blair Holladay. He, his leadership team, and this organization have been integral in my path to pathology and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!

Social media has become so valuable in our field. Not just for networking, but sharing cases, impressions, publications, and more! It’s so easy to rally behind a hashtag and support a cause in so many instances—why not in our profession? Get involved, be an active voice for your own practice as well as your colleagues.

If you want to learn more about the sessions you may have missed, download the ASCP2019 app from the Apple App Store or Google App Store!

Thanks for reading! See you on social media, because when we communicate and collaborate, we are #StrongerTogether! I’m on twitter at @CKanakis, until next time!

–Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student actively involved in public health and laboratory medicine, conducting clinicals at Bronx-Care Hospital Center in New York City.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

As laboratory safety professionals, we know that an important part of the job is the ability to coach other lab team members when unsafe situations are observed. To coach someone is to confront a coworker about an issue for the sake of safety-theirs, yours, or that of a patient. Those coworkers may be fellow lab employees, supervisors, managers, or even physicians. The word “confront” might sound strong, particularly to those who may be uncomfortable with these types of encounters, but this coaching is an important and valuable skill. 

Coaching your peers is no easy task, and it takes practice to be able to do it well. I recently walked into a laboratory that was unfamiliar to me, and I saw a technologist working at the bench with no lab coat, no gloves, and no face protection. At first I thought, “that would never happen in a one of my labs,” and then, “the lab safety culture here is terrible.”

I learned I was wrong on both counts, and the incident reminded me of the necessity to stop and think before forming an opinion or even speaking about a lab safety issue. I provide training often about how to coach staff who are acting unsafely while in the lab, and I have learned that how a coaching moment will go depends largely on what is in the head of the coach before he or she speaks. It is important to remember that if someone acts in a manner that displeases or disappoints you, there are several possible sources of influence acting on that person.

Psychologists have coined it the “Fundamental Attribution Error.” Humans who are disappointed usually think the other person has committed the wrong intentionally or because they are not intelligent. Neither of these conclusions is ever correct, and that thought process usually leads to a coaching session that will not be successful.

Take the scenario I mentioned above, for example. What is your gut reaction when you see someone working in a lab without PPE? Maybe that lab tech just found out a relative had passed away and they were waiting for someone to relieve them, or maybe there were no lab coats or gloves available in their size. The possibilities are endless, so you need to train yourself to be calm first and to ask questions to learn what is really happening without making assumptions. It’s more difficult to do than one would think.

The success of a safety coaching moment is determined in your head before you even speak. You have the power to make it a positive event. It is true that some people just will not accept it well no matter what we do (a reminder to ourselves to always be ready to accept coaching), but by and large a successful event starts in the mind of the person who is coaching for safety.

When you see a lab safety problem, it is vital that you confront the person. However, before you do so, ask yourself, “why would a rational person behave this way? What am I not seeing here?” If you start with that, your coaching for safety will be much more successful, and you will see a positive change in your overall lab safety culture.

Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

Global Health Narratives Interview Series: Meet Dr. Adebowale Adeniran

Adebowale Adeniran, MD is a surgical pathologist and cytopathologist currently practicing at Yale University and serves as the Director of Cytopathology there. He completed his medical school training in Nigeria and moved to the United States to complete a residency and fellowship.

I am fortunate enough to know him as my future attending, as I will be joining the cytopathology fellowship program at Yale in 2020. I also know him through attending last year’s Friends of Africa meeting at USCAP, where he gave a presentation about the status of pathology services in Africa. His points were compelling and he spoke with passion and heart about the issue. He is a true global health advocate and I was delighted to have the chance to talk with him about the work that he is doing in Africa and learn more about the USCAP Friends of Africa group. Read on to be inspired by his commitment to global health and learn how you can also get involved!

Q: How did you recognize the need to contribute to improving pathology services in Africa?

A: Being from Nigeria and having worked there for a short time as a House Officer, I knew that there were improvements to be made in the healthcare delivery system, but I hadn’t thought of improving pathology services specifically. It wasn’t until I was in my second fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering that I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Brian West. He told me about the USCAP Friends of Africa group in which he was an active part and had been since the start. He was involved in education initiatives and would routinely travel to Africa to give lectures and educational seminars.

I went to the next Friends of Africa meeting at the annual USCAP meeting and was able to speak to others doing similar work to Dr. West. This inspired me to also get involved and have been participating in the group ever since. I learned that pathologists practicing back home in Nigeria, and in most other countries in Sub Saharan Africa, face challenges in practicing pathology that we don’t have in the US. It only takes seeing the situation once to realize the great need there is. There are a range of problems, from outdated equipment, to supply shortages, to all of the things that we take for granted like consistent access to electricity and water supply. In general, governments tend to be apathetic to funding healthcare and especially pathology services, which results in compromised patient care with very few pathologists to read cases, long turnaround times, and limited diagnoses. The training programs are usually working with few or old textbooks and limited exposure to advanced testing modalities. You see these problems and your heart bleeds; you feel compelled to get involved and give back.

Q: What is the mission of the USCAP Friends of Africa?

A: The organization has evolved and expanded over the years to increase their outreach to Sub Saharan Africa with the aim of improving pathology services there. The main leaders in the group, Drs. Adekunle Adesina, Patrick Adegboyega, Kunle Adesokan, and Jaiye Ogunniyi-Thomas have made big strides since the start and pathology has come a long way because of it. The group is supported by the USCAP Foundation and they work to distribute free educational materials to pathologists and training programs. They also work with the East and West African divisions of the IAP in developing and hosting teaching projects called “Schools of Pathology”, which are special yearly meetings. They are usually around a weeklong of intensive teaching and mentoring, and they will be held in different countries in West and East Africa to equalize the opportunities for people to participate. Pathologists from across the regions travel to be a part of it.

Q: What ways have you found to contribute to improving pathology services in Africa?

A: For the last five or six years, I’ve worked most frequently in Nigeria in my medical school alma mater, where I travel back yearly to give lectures and teach residents with slide sessions. It’s also a good opportunity for me to review any difficult cases with the department and offer an outside consultation. I also send journals and reading materials they don’t have access to otherwise. I’ve also had opportunity to work with three other medical schools in the area in similar ways.

Volunteering with USCAP Friends of Africa, I participated in last year’s School of Pathology meeting that was held in Lagos, Nigeria. This was the first time that I was able to teach in that program and it was a very good experience.

Q: In what ways can the pathology community get involved with global health?

A: One very simple and easy way to contribute is to give a donation to the USCAP Foundation Global Partners. Every year since 2015, they sponsor pathologists from low and middle income countries to travel to the USCAP meeting through a scholarship, the Global Partners Travel Award. This supports those who often don’t have easy access to attending academic conferences and who cannot afford the travel cost and meeting registration fees to travel to USCAP.

Another is by attending the USCAP Friends of Africa meeting at the annual USCAP meeting and signing up for the many ways you can volunteer your time and expertise. Anyone who has the desire and ability to go and teach, organize slide sessions, or collaborate on research projects, has the opportunity to do so through this organization. These things go a long way and are really appreciated.

Donations of textbooks, supplies, and equipment such as cryostats are also needed. Developing the laboratory services in these countries is really needed and I would encourage those who can to set up private pathology laboratories to help meet the need.

Academic institutions in the US can offer ways of enhancing training opportunities for African pathologists and trainees by offering short- or long-term exchange programs. This helps to bridge the gap between practiced based learning in resource limited vs. US institutions.

-Dana Razzano, MD is a Chief Resident in her third year in anatomic and clinical pathology at New York Medical College at Westchester Medical Center and will be starting her fellowship in Cytopathology at Yale University in 2020. She was a top 5 honoree in ASCP’s Forty Under 40 2018 and was named to The Pathologist’s Power List of 2018. Follow Dr. Razzano on twitter @Dr_DR_Cells.

A Pathology Emergency

Hi everybody! Welcome back. Thanks for following along last month’s update on Zika epidemiology and clinical lab crossovers. This time I’ve got a story to tell…

This is my last month of medical school! And, as such, I decided to go out with a bang and finish up with my last rotation in Emergency Medicine at The Brooklyn Hospital Center. It was a fantastic month! One would think that EM and Path are two very distant specialties, but they are more alike than you might realize. That could be a whole separate article but consider this: managing critical situations, ensuring fast-paced accurate response times, engaging in high-stakes algorithms, and making sure mistakes are caught early. Sounds to me like there’s lots of overlap…remember my discussion on high reliability organizations or the critical role interdisciplinary medicine plays in creating good patient outcomes? All things aside, all clinicians have a critical role to play, but what happens when you put an (almost) pathologist in an emergency room?

Basically, you get me having a fun four weeks—I used to be an EMT and help teach EMS courses, so I do like this stuff. But something else happened this month that really made this experience special…

Image 1. Typically, med students have minor roles to play in real-life critical codes, but some of our duties include managing monitor attachments for vital signs, securing peripheral IV access, obtaining emergency labs, and other supportive measures while the rest of the code team manages…well, the resuscitation efforts. Source: Life in the Fast Lane.

Saturday, July 27th. I got to sleep in because I was on the night shift for four days. No big deal. When I finally got to the hospital, there was pandemonium. Extra ambulances in the loading bay, a couple squad cars outside, a stab wound victim in the trauma bay, lots of noise and folks everywhere—what was routine hospital stuff somehow seemed like I was in the middle of filming an actual episode of ER. (I’m obviously partial to particular shows…okay, maybe Chicago Med?) When I report to my team, I learn that the computers have been down. All day. No electronic health records, no charting, no histories, no internet to look up guidelines/recommendations on UpToDate—and most tragically: no lab results.

Ok. This is it. I’m on the other (read: clinical) side of an awful downtime shift. I’ve experienced plenty of downtime in the lab, but this night I took a deep breath, reminded myself its going to be okay, and did my best to label things right. But a problem appears that’s more serious than labeling type and screens the right way without a computer: results are backlogged for hours! I’m talking no blood gases, no lactic acids, no pregnancy confirmations! I overheard senior residents and my attending that night talk about how the lab is struggling and they didn’t have enough people to figure out this downtime debacle.

This was a moment. It’s not often med students get to be literally useful in any clinical situation but after high-speed thinking about it, I interjected and made my elevator pitch:

“Dr. X, Dr. Y – I’ve got several years of hospital lab experience and lots of background in managing crises and downtime situations, if you want I’ll head over to the lab and see if I can help this situation at all, at least for the ER…”

There was a short pause. Then an enthusiastic wave of approval with hands waving me to go help out our laboratorian colleagues. Please note: the instances where tidbits of knowledge as a medical laboratory scientist prove useful as a medical student on rounds are far and few between for their ability to really captivate a group of doctors who identify themselves far from any lab medicine; so, this was a win. Explaining the importance of order of draw, or why sensitivity goes down when you don’t adequately fill blood cultures, or why peripheral smears should come with some interdisciplinary caveats aren’t quite as sexy as an emergency room, on metaphorical fire, with no one but you knowing anything about how labs work.

So, I ran on over to the laboratory, fully intending to do what I could to help in my unofficial just-a-friendly-neighborhood-med student capacity. That’s when I met Jalissa Hall!

I walked into the main lab area and asked if I could talk to the supervisor, thinking I would just explain my experience and offer what I could to their staff who I’m sure were buried in downtime SOPs and make sure I got critical results back to my team in the ER—a win-win! When I asked who was in charge, a very busy Ms. Hall walked out from behind the chemistry section and said, “you can talk to me. What’s going on?” I’m sure she thought I was there to complain, seemingly like many other clinicians were, but I stopped and gave her the same elevator speech I delivered moments ago with the postscript: “what can I do for you?” I remember she stopped, thought about if for roughly 10 seconds, and presented me with her situation briefing:

  • Computers have been down since roughly 05:00 am
  • There’s a computer virus that had all servers shut down indefinitely
  • There’s no communication between the hospitals EHR and the labs LIS
  • Moreover, no patient information is coming across to the analyzers (MRNs, specimen IDs, etc.)
  • There are 4-5 critical units (ER, OR, ICU, OB, NICU) that require STAT results
  • Clinicians have been coming to the lab all day looking for informal results reporting
  • The limited lab staff has had to manually print results on paper and work to match them with barcodes, specimens, and manual requisitions before releasing results
Image 2. Jalissa Hall, MLS(ASCP) (left) and a very tired me (right) after a great night of solving lab-related communication problems! Anyone else need an emergency room pathologist? Sounds like a new clinical specialty/fellowship to me…

Deal. I know I can’t jump on the analyzers because New York is one of the states that requires clinical laboratory licensure (which I do not hold). In my informal survey I noted three medical lab scientists (including Ms. Hall), someone in specimen processing, and someone in blood bank. Basically, in order to make sure the lab could operate at peak performance with what they had, I helped alleviate the “paper problem” for them at least for the ER specimens. I matched requisitions with instrument raw data, made copies for downtime recording, delivered copied results to the ER, rinsed, lathered, and repeated—for eight hours! I obviously had to toe the line for the ER results, but there were other nurses and doctors who came in for the other areas’ results. No one worked more than the folks in that lab that night, and no one more so than Jalissa. After things cooled down a bit, I got the chance to connect with her and talk about her career and asked if she had anything to share with all of you—she definitely did.

Lablogatory family: please meet Jalissa Hall, MLS (ASCP)!
(Responses paraphrased because, honestly it was late, and downtime was busy, and we were tired, ok?)

Jalissa has been working for about five years as a generalist, with two jobs—like most of us have done. She works at The Brooklyn Hospital Center as a generalist and at NYU Hospital Lab in their hematology section. She is a graduate from the excellent MLS program at Stony Brook University in NY. She’s got ambitious career goals that are aimed at climbing as high as she can in laboratory medicine, and she’s got the enthusiasm and work ethic to match! I got the chance to ask her some real questions, during a real down-time crisis. This is what she had to say:

What made you go into laboratory medicine?

JH: I really want to help people. I love the behind-the-scenes aspect of being a medical laboratory scientist, but I think sometimes it can be too behind the scenes…

What did you think of tonight’s downtime issues?

JH: …it could have gone better. There seems to have been some panic, people kept walking in and shuffling the papers around. I tried my best to organize by floor, have two copies of each result (one for us and one to send upstairs), and requisitions match orders, but it was difficult. We have a downtime protocol, but we just couldn’t keep up with the volume and extent of how long it’s been down for. There’s really been no help outside the lab to work with us during this time so it’s a challenge.

What could have happened better?

JH: No outside help meant no room to breathe. On the inside, supervisors off duty tonight called staff in but none were available to come in. We don’t have an on-call person. We’re understaffed or short-staffed like so many labs out there; it’s problematic.

How is this going to look tomorrow?

JH: It’s not looking good, haha! Morning draw is definitely going to have a hard time. Catching up with these backlogs is one thing, but if orders can’t come across the LIS we’ll have to address that problem for sure. We’ve got a great staff though, so I’m sure it’s going to be fine.

What would be your “top tips” for all our fellow laboratorians reading this?

JH: First and foremost, being driven matters. If you want to get ahead, if you want to excel and climb high within an organization or in our profession, you have to work hard and keep working toward your goals.

Pro-tip #1: One of the biggest issues is “vertical cooperation.” Basically, some call it administration-buy-in, but it means administration working with employees in the lab to make the best decisions for our patients. If employees are burned out or if there aren’t enough resources to effectively perform our responsibilities it creates risks! It all comes down to patients, and making sure we’re in the best position to deliver diagnostic data for them means considering all aspects of lab management.

Pro-tip#2: If we want to fix the workforce shortages our labs regularly experience, we have to increase our efforts in advocacy within our profession. Having programs increase awareness of this job as a profession increases the pull and interest of potential new partners to work with. My school did it, other schools do this; increasing the number of programs that expose students to career opportunities in lab medicine would address our short-staffing problems everywhere!

Pro-tip #3: TELL OTHERS ABOUT OUR PROFESSION! I talked about our role being too behind the scenes…well the way to fix that is professional PRIDE! Own our accomplishments, share our role, advocate for our recognition, celebrate our peers!

Pro-tip #4: The future is not scary. Lots of folks shy away from tech advancement, fearing that automation and other developments mean losing jobs—it doesn’t. Why can’t today’s lab scientists become tomorrows experts on automation, LIS software, and other aspects of our cutting-edge field?

It was a pleasure to meet Jalissa and even better to work alongside her and learn about her passions and goals within the field we both care about! It was particularly special for me to be able to use my knowledge and experience to really contribute to my clinical team and bring laboratory medicine to the forefront where it doesn’t often shine!

Image 3. In a fantastic book I read recently, the authors of You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most talk about leadership as a moment—a moment where you step up to a situation because you have skills and experiences which make you uniquely qualified to serve in a role which aims at a positive outcome. I had a small version of that in front of my attending (important for evaluations in medical school of course), but that downtime night was Jalissa’s “you’re it” moment for sure! (Source: Google)

Signing off from any new clinical rotations because this guy’s done with his medical school clerkships! Now I’ve gotta knock out some board exams and go on some residency interviews…wish me luck! I’ll check in with you next month after the 2019 ASCP Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona—hope to see some of you there!

See you all next time and thanks for reading!

–Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student actively involved in public health and laboratory medicine, conducting clinicals at Bronx-Care Hospital Center in New York City.