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Why National Medical Labratory Week is important

National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week has been celebrated this week, April 19-26, recognizing an important component of the medical team. Who are Medical Laboratory Professionals. Why is there an entire week to celebrate their dedication and accomplishments?

These people come in all job descriptions: from laboratory assistants, phlebotomists, medical laboratory technicians, medical laboratory technologists, to the Pathologists (MDs) who direct the clinical laboratory. Each has their own very important responsibility; one cannot properly function without the others. The medical system cannot function without the clinical laboratorians. We are all a team.

The laboratory supplies 70% of all the information the physician needs to make a diagnosis. It is an integral part of the medical profession. We are fortunate that in our area we have the means to do that. We have 2 local hospitals in the Hancock, Laurium area with excellent clinical laboratories. If you go out of our immediate area, there are more hospitals (Baraga, Ontonagon, etc.) that also house excellent clinical laboratories. We are fortunate to have such well-trained, well educated and caring professionals across our region.

In our area we also have a University, MTU, that has a highly regarded, NAACLS accredited Medical Laboratory Science Program. There is a severe national shortage of Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS). MTU has been providing highly qualified MLS graduates for many years and these graduates help alleviate the national shortage and also help keep our area hospitals staffed.

With this COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, the one question that keeps being reiterated is “where is testing?”, “we need more tests.” Who is it that develops new tests and more importantly, who is it that actually intakes the patient samples and ultimately gives a positive or negative result? Laboratory professionals. They are instrumental in making testing happen.

Michigan Tech was handed an incredible challenge three weeks ago; could we set up a clinical laboratory to do COVID-19 testing? A team was quickly assembled, and what a team it turned out to be. Experts across all disciplines did not say “how will we ever be able to do this?” but said “let’s get this done.” This was daunting, but not impossible. What was accomplished was nothing short of miraculous; two research labs were transformed into clinical laboratories. The first lab processes the incoming samples and extracts RNA. The second lab runs the PCR analyses to secure those critical “negative or positive” results.

The team members self-identified in their areas of expertise: a partial list would include Microbiologists, Molecular Biologists, Biomedical Engineers, Government Liaisons, Public Health, and of course, Medical Laboratory Professionals. Approvals were given, an extremely competent Medical Director secured, Licenses and Certifications applied for and granted. Training modules were assigned to those involved with Data Security, HIPPA (patient confidentiality), and Biohazard work. And the patient samples arrived.

I entered the field as a Medical Technologist in 1975 when I accepted my first position in a hospital laboratory. This year I am retiring after being in this field for45 years. I have worked across the country in many different capacities. The professionals I have worked with over these many years have been incredible and dedicated to patient health. I am proud to be able to exit being a part of the MTU COVID-19 team.

The third week of April has traditionally been put aside to recognize the unsung heroes of the medical team, the Medical Laboratory Professionals. They are not in the public eye, but are behind closed doors with “Biohazard Area, Authorized Personnel Only” signs on that door. The clinical lab is open 24/7, 365 days of the year to provide that 70% of information that is so imperative to patient care. Take time to say thanks to your favorite clinical laboratorian.

Karyn Fay, MS MLS(ASCP)CM SH, is the director of MTU’s Medical Laboratory Science Program.

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