Going for Gold in a Different Competition

Team LaboratoryI have never been a super fan of the Olympics, but like many of you I have been thrilled by the grace, strength and joyfulness of the US Women’s Gymnastic Team. The incredible aura they project, and their spirit of camaraderie and affection for their coaches has made watching them a pleasure. So in honor of the US team and the Five Olympic Rings, I thought I would explore the five part team that provides the results that leave our laboratory every day. Though I will describe them separately, just as the Olympic Rings are linked, so is each part of our team, all interdependent on each other.

In our first ring, we have our lab assistant team. While lab assistants vary in duties and titles at various labs, in our enterprise they are the like the springboard that gets the Olympians onto the balance beam. They get us going!  Arriving to the lab early in the morning, they are the first to get a look at the days specimens, matching containers, labels, test orders. As I have mentioned before, keeping patient identities correct on specimens is Job One. Our assistants are also responsible for the Gross Description of our biopsy specimens, counting the pieces of tissue in each jar, measuring the dimensions of each piece and preparing them for processing.

Our second ring, keeping the fast pace,  goes to our histology and cytology staffs. The histology team takes our biopsies and through multiple steps converts human tissue to ultrathin stained slices on glass slides. Patience, concentration and a deft hand are key, especially when operating the rotary microtome, the lab equivalent of the delicatessen salami slicer.  Our cytology staff is responsible for preparing urine specimens (yuck-but we ARE a urology practice) for bladder cancer evaluation. We use basic tests that are almost one hundred years old, as well as much more sophisticated tests that examine individual chromosomes as we help our clinicians battle this common malignancy.

The middle ring, the tent pole, is for our technologists in the areas known as “clinical” pathology. In a hospital or large commercial lab, this may constitute thousands of tests on blood and other body “fluids.” In our more specialized lab, we focus on a a handful of relevant blood tests, including PSA and testosterone, and bacterial cultures of urinary tract specimens looking for the microbes that causes pesky urinary tract infections. We also perform a special test to cut down on the risk of infection in men who will be undergoing prostate biopsies.

Pathologists get our next ring, heading for the home stretch. Trained physicians with extensive experience in laboratory medicine, it is our job to interpret the various findings in the lab, make diagnosis on the biopsy specimens, and generally guide the lab in the direction that best serves our clinical colleagues and their patients, while maintaining the lab accreditation by guaranteeing we meet all applicable laws and regulations. It means wearing a few different hats and keeping a cool head.

The final ring, the one that gets us across the finish line, belongs to our administrative department. Fielding questions from the clinicians offices, resolving discrepancies, managing the endless stream of consultation requests, they make sure the right result goes to the right physician for the right patient. As we know, the job is never done until all the paperwork (or electronic report) is completed.

Five rings, five squads working  together. Our team may lack a stirring theme song, and we don’t have the time to stand up on a podium, but in our behind the scenes way we earn gold medals every day.
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