Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Real World

Press play to hear "Glamorous" by Fergie

One of the topics for the next edition of the EtsyBloggers Team blog carnival is what we do for work - outside of Etsy. I'm excited for this topic because it gives me a chance to clarify my job's ambiguity, and clear up some popular misconceptions that the media has created. I will try not to bore you.

My job title is Medical Technologist. Sounds like I make computerized medical devices or something, right? In some places I would be called a Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Clinical Laboratory Scientist, which are titles that better describe the actual job. I work in a hospital laboratory, but some people that know me always have, and always will think that I'm a nurse. My job is completely different from that of a nurse, but I've given up on correcting them. I rarely come in contact with a patient. I can draw blood, but I try really hard not to.

I'm sure you have watched a movie or television program with the doctor in the O.R. who screams "I need two units of O negative - STAT!" It is a medical technologist who performs the blood types and cross matches on the patients and the blood units in the blood bank department of the lab. While on rare emergency occasions units of O negative blood are issued to a patient without being crossmatched, the doctor actually has to sign an emergency release form in which they acknowledge the risks in infusing the patient with uncrossmatched blood, and the lab will perform a crossmatch as soon as possible after the release.

I'm sure you've heard of rising cases of MRSA (Methacillin Resistant Staph Aureus) infections across the United States over recent months. A young student in Virginia died from a community acquired MRSA infection last year, and several schools across the nation had closed temporarily for cleaning after finding the bacteria on lockers, gym equipment, and so on. Medical Technologists in the microbiology department are the ones that test for bacteria. Oddly enough, this is my favorite department of the lab, growing bacteria out of pretty much anything that can come off or out of a human. I look for pathogens causing infection, identify them, and produce a report for the doctor listing antibiotics that should be effective in treatment, as well as those that won't work. Yes, it takes a special person with a high tolerance of things that are gross to do the job. It is a time consuming process, as the bacteria needs time to grow. In a best case scenario, a preliminary identification and antibiotic susceptibility can be produced in a day and a half, but usually it takes two or three days. It makes my head spin when ignorant television writers make the doctors say that they have the culture report back within only a couple hours of the patient being in the hospital!

Ever get your cholesterol tested or found out that you have diabetes? Maybe you take a therapeutic drug that has to be monitored, or perhaps you've had your thyroid functions tested. I do that kind of testing in the chemistry department. While we don't "diagnosis" the patient, we give the blood work results to the doctor who can interpret them for diagnosis, ruling out conditions, and/or monitoring the course of treatment for a particular disease process. We have analyzers that do the actual chemical analysis and produce numbers. It's not just "button pushing" because it is our responsibility to review the results, and make sure they make sense, as well as monitor the instruments for errors and trends. When the doctor on TV says the lab is taking too long for results, perhaps they are just having instrument problems. When the doctor says that he or she is going to go down to the lab and run the test personally... thats illegal. They would have to read the procedure manual, be trained, perform competencies, and in some states - New York included - apply and get approved for a license after taking a qualifying exam.

It looks scientific, but in this picture I'm just sorting blood specimens according to which analyzer the test is run on.

The last area of the lab that a Medical Technologist could work in is Hematology where they perform tests for anemia, look at blood smears, monitor blood clotting function, particularly with patients on heparin or Coumidin. Many hematology labs also perform urinalysis and male fertility studies. My favorite ignorant misinterpretation of the hematology lab was from an episode of a mystery diagnosis program on either Discovery Health or TLC - the lab tech, who was wearing an "I See Dead People" graphic T-shirt and listening to an iPod, put an entire tube of blood under a microscope, announced the hemoglobin level, and diagnosed the patient with anemia. The same show once showed doctors in the lab drinking sodas and hounding the lab tech for results, threatening to do the work themselves. Drinking in the lab is a big no-no.

So, this is my regulated, non creative, real world, dirty job. Glamorous, huh? If it's something you are interested in, look for colleges that offer four year degrees in Medical Technology or Clinical Laboratory Science. It doesn't pay a ton, but I certainly can't live off my jewelry sales! Maybe someday...

Work in a hospital, or anywhere where you are required to wear ID? I make lanyards for your ID badge!


Live, Love, Laugh, Write! said...

People like you have done TONS of playing with my blood over the years :P

BeadedTail said...

I am thankful for people like you because I can't handle medical stuff! I enjoyed reading about your work though!

TiLT said...

Yeah - another science etsian! I went to grad school for virology (only stayed for 1 year b/c only lab open was immunology - not exactly what I wanted)...but I have grown my fair share of little buggies. We had a group that wtached ER & had contests on all the inaccuracies - then CSI came out :) even more fun!
and I also feel your pain of the wonderful pay that the science field swims in ;P

Anonymous said...

Well Jackie, what an interesting blog carnival about the work that you do. So you are a pretty fart smeller, uh, I mean smart fella/wella? A toast to you for the behind the scene's, critical work that you do for us.

I was wondering if it is mostly something different or new everyday, or is it pretty routine?

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

Lily - I smell a lot of things at my job. Pretty routine, except in microbiology. Even that is routine, but each situation, patient, culture is different with different problems. It's really cool when you find something different or unusual that you can learn from.

TILT - good for you, lasting a year!!! I lasted about a month in grad school (mine was microbiology/immunology). Finally got my Masters in Public Health instead.

Thanks Beadedtail

Ruthie, I'm sure you're in good hands :) Hope we play less some day.

diane said...

Nice to know what you really do in that hospital lab.

Some day I'll explain what I really do in the school library!

Your postings are always so entertaining and informative. What a Renaissance woman you are. What a lucky husband you have ;-)

(If only they made those lab coats in a smaller size and more flattering cut)

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

Seriously... thats the extra small size! I look like a kid playing dress up. Just as well, I go in wearing scrubs and not really caring what I look like anyway...

I read your blog, I get the gist of what you do :) I'm sure its changed a lot since I was in grade school, though.

Erika said...

Now this sounds like an interesting job! How fun to get to 'play' with so many different chemicals, blood and tissue. What you do is certainly important to all of us.

And I like your lanyard.

storybeader said...

I was in the hospital back in 1969 and got a bad blood transfusion, so I'm not that fond of hospitals and needles. But I must say, that I appreciate the "crew" that saved my life.

Remember looking through a microscope in science class, and always thought that was cool!

Jen (Mama's Magic Studio) said...

Fascinating post!!! I started out my college career with a biotechnology major, so it's always neat to hear about this science stuff. (I switched to English and Women's Studies when I had a head on collision with organic chemistry.... sigh....) Thanks so much for sharing!

Virginia said...

Yes - that's a glamorous job! If only they paid you as well as a supermodel ,eh?

SecondChanceChicken said...

Very good post although I'm a nurse and understood your job. I too get a kick out of the mistakes on medical shows and how fast they get things done. Recently on ER two nurses had a discussion about a patients death and possible charges against a nurse , IN FRONT OF ANOTHER PATIENT !!!
My family gets annoyed with me because I point out all the errors and interupt the show. I just can't be quiet LOL