"At Bartlett Regional Hospital's Laboratory we are motivated by accuracy and attention to detail, said Cathy Price, laboratory manager. "We do all kinds of things to make sure we meet or exceed the highest standards in the industry."
Every day nurses, physicians, and other medical workers depend on laboratory professionals to perform tests on body fluids, interpret the results, and help provide a complete picture of a patient's health. Using modern biomedical equipment and complicated analysis, laboratorians can detect the presence of cancer; indentify infectious viruses and bacteria, and measure glucose, cholesterol, or drug levels in blood. Without this information medicine would simply become guesswork.
Bartlett Regional Hospital's laboratory, accredited by the College of American Pathologists, is a clinical laboratory with state-of-the-art analytical instruments.
Dr. Norman Thompson, who is board certified in clinical and anatomical pathology, serves as the Medical Director. In keeping with a commitment to accuracy and precision, the laboratory must run numerous quality control procedures as well as perform daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance according agency regulations.
There are approximately 300,000 practitioners of laboratory science in the United States. Since the development of this career group in the 1920s, the clinical laboratory science professional has played an increasingly vital role in the diagnosis and prevention of disease.
The laboratory at Bartlett reported 555,240 patient test results to physicians and other care providers between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007. There were 104,289 controls run in that same time period (a control is material that has a known value, such as glucose or cholesterol or a white blood cell count).
The lab technologists run two levels of control, usually a normal range control and an abnormal range control.
"The instruments are calibrated all the time by the staff and with controls we are assured that the results we are reporting out are correct" says Price.
The staff at Bartlett has a combined work experience of 207 years. A medical technologist has a four year degree and must be certified to work in the laboratory at Bartlett.
Maggie Hinkley has been a clinical laboratory technologist for almost 28 years. More than 25 years of her experience has been at Bartlett. Hinkley shares that she enjoys being a "generalist," which means she works in all areas of the lab - chemistry, hematology, blood banking, bacteriology, etc.
"It is nice to be part of a small team and be able to see all the pieces of a patient's lab work.," says Hinkley.
Phlebotomists have either formal training or on the job training to learn how to draw blood.
A histologist requires at least two years of training and must be certified. A histologist is a laboratory professional who has received specialized training in preparing human, animal, plant or other samples for examination and diagnosis by a pathologist. The histologist is concerned with cellular structure, chemical composition and function of normal and abnormal tissues.
The Histology Department receives surgical specimens. These specimens are examined grossly by a pathologist who determines which areas of that tissue specimen need to be examined microscopically. The tissue specimen is then cut into smaller pieces and put through a tissue processor. It takes all night to process a specimen. The tissue is then sliced and tranferred to a glass slide and stained. The pathologist can then look at the tissue microscopically and make a diagnosis.
As team members of one of the largest industries in the United States, the dedicated efforts of the laboratory professionals often go unnoticed by the general public, as well as by the very institutions employing their services. With the public now demanding the assurance of quality health care and professional accountability, organizations representing practitioners of this critical science have a responsibility to ensure that the public is well informed about clinical laboratory competency.
Price stated that she was very surprised the first year she worked at Bartlett when the hematology technologist told her they had a blood smear that was positive for malaria. "Coming from southern California I certainly did not expect that type of test result to show up in Alaska. That's a tropical disease! How can that be? That's when I learned about how diverse the tourist/cruise ship employee population is." We see a few interesting cases every tourist season.
You can find more information about a career in Laboratory Technology at www.uaa.alaska.edu/ctc/alliedhealth/medlab/index.cfm, by researching the profession at the U.S. Department of Labor web site: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos096.htm or by contacting the American Society for Clinical Pathology at www.ascp.org.