Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back to the Beginning of my Lab Career

Twenty years ago, I would spend the whole day looking into a microscope and performing cell differentials (Lab slang- diffs). Every patient with a Complete cell count got a slide made: just right with a drop of blood which you would put another slide edge on top of to spread out the blood to a feathered edge. Hopefully after the slide went through the stainer, your blood cells would look like the picture. We would count 100 of the large cells and differentiate what kind of cells they were. If you have a bacterial infection, you get an increase in the Neutrophils, with a viral infection, there is an increase in the Lymphocytes and in Mononucleosis, those lymphs get funky looking. We would also be the first to determine if a patient had leukemia.

This is a basic idea of hematology and it goes into far more detail than what I can explain within a blog. However, Medical Technologists are responsible for learning and understanding the differences and stages of cell development for all blood cells. Instruments now do most of the differentials by automation based on the biochemistry of the cells, however, anything flagged as abnormal has a slide made which a lab tech then reads and interprets. I remember my first days training on my first job reading diffs, I would go home, close my eyes and see cells float across my eye lids.

In answer to One Gal's Question, BUN stands for Blood Urea Nitrogen. Which is a Urea-Nitrogen containing waste product that's created when the body breaks down protein. The test is used to evaluate and monitor kidney function. Along with Creatinine, Bun is a test routinely ordered for older patients to determine if the kidney is working correctly. Both are tests that my grandmother used to ask me about b/c doctors would be concerned about her higher than normal values.

A really good website for basic lab test information is Lab Tests Online, the information is given in easy to understand English with minimal Medical terminology. I know that I promised to give more information about my career in Medical Technology, however the more I think about it, the more I realize how much there is to write. So today was hematology 101 and tomorrow I will write about the differences in what is available for Chemistry versus what we used to do 20 years ago. I have told an old lab friend about the blog and I am hoping that she can provide a guest blog with even more information. She is "just a little bit older" than myself and one of the best techs that I ever worked with.


  1. I think a lot must have changed in 20 years in the medical field. Is there a lot of re-training for you?

  2. If I go back into the individual departments to be a generalist, then yes, I would have a lot of retraining. Right now I am in the administrative Marketing and sales end for outreach for 24 hours/week. I did pick up some extra hours in Blood bank and did have to learn a new crossmatch system which is so much quicker and better for patients. There is always something in the computer to learn.

  3. I really like that you can explain this in terms an ordinary person can understand! That shows that all your p.r. work has paid off!

  4. Thanks for addressing the BUN thing. And thanks for putting a face (albeit one surrounded by bangs and pigtails!) on what you do. It's very important to us patients, and we never see you.


Any thoughts or musings of your own to add?