Monday, April 23, 2007

It's Lab Week!

Do you know what happens to your blood after it gets drawn? Well, let me just say that if you think labs are anything like what you see on the soaps or CSI, you would be wrong.

Nobody can just walk in and switch the tubes or results. Quality is our number one concern for all of our patient specimens and we have checks in place for specimen identification to result verification. I realize that there are cases where a patient has been told that "the lab lost their specimen" which can happen, but extremely rarely. Usually this is a reason used by doctors' offices when they have lost the specimen or ordered the wrong test.

As a Medical Technologist, I was trained to label specimens after collection in the presence of the patient, and all of us from the lab do this. The specimens come into the lab where we accession (enter it into the computer system) and from that point it goes on an instrument that sorts it to be spun down or for whole blood specimens like complete blood counts, they get sorted into racks to be put on the instrument. Blood that is drawn for most chemistries need to be "spun down" in a centrifuge to separate the light yellow serum (liquid) part of the blood from the heavier cells. The serum is what is tested in the chemistry analyzers. Labs also have reference lab tests where we send specimens for specialized testing to a larger lab.

Compared to what we used to do 20 years ago, the number of tests that we offer 24/7 have increase dramatically with the advances made in technology. Chemistry panels were never offered after 3 pm and doctors could only get, glucose, electrolytes, calcium, creatinine, BUN and amylases. Now they can get anything we do on the day shift, from full panels to hormone assays to drugs of abuse screening. However, DNA testing shown on CSI takes a lot longer than 1 day. Another big error in lab testing was shown last week on Gray's Anatomy, I found it ridiculous that her daughter is in the hospital, Izzie gets tested for compatibility, drawn that day for a bone marrow and the daughter got transfused that evening. It would never, ever happen that quickly! I don't know for sure the actual super STAT turnaround time for bone marrow, but I can be safe in saying, definitely not in a day!

To keep up with the increase in technology, lab techs are continually learning and training. It is a great field for anyone interested in biology or chemistry and looking for a steady job. The average age of a medical technologist is around 46 years old. I haven't even touched the surface of what we do. Tomorrow's post will be about the different jobs that I have had and the various tests that I had to learn.


  1. LOL It would be a shame if people really believe what goes on in those silly television shows. I love to mock the investigations they do with computers. I bet as a lab technician, you cringe more than once. Informative post! As I've told you before, it's hard for me to know what goes on in your world. I look forward to you telling us about your jobs.

  2. I always get a kick of those shows with their immedatie results. I especially like the immediate finger print and now the face analysis software. I have a sis-in-law who is a crown prosecutor and she can't even watch most of those shows as she knows how far fetched they are. But they always give DH and I a good laugh or two.

    I think your job would be very interesting, do you take the blood samples as well? I don't know if I could ever do dream job would be a nurse I think.

    I look forward to hearing about more of your jobs.

  3. As I have just given blood I find this fascinating and look forward to hearing more.

  4. Thanks for sharing this post with us..Its nice to hear aboutyour job from you. As a nurse, I really appreciate all of the work you do and I know it can be stressful at times

  5. You know, after watching all those episodes of CSI and Forensic Files I thought I was qualified to be a lab tech in some states. What a reality check your post was! (Guess now it's back to truck-driving school.) Anyway, what's BUN?


Any thoughts or musings of your own to add?