There are many things that a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) does throughout the day. Let me tell you a little bit of what we all do. The lab is open Monday-Friday from 6:00am-10:00pm and Saturday-Sunday from 6:00am-2:30pm. After 10:00pm Monday–Friday or after 2:30pm Saturday and Sunday, we are on call until 6:00am the next morning. That means if there aren’t any patients that need lab tests done, we can go home until we get a call from the hospital that there is a patient here to draw blood and run labs that were ordered. We could get called at any time, day or night. We have rotating shifts during the week ranging from 6:00am-1:30pm.
On the weekends, there is only one Tech in the Lab. We all take our turns when it comes to working the weekends and holidays. The Tech covering those days/weekends is the one that runs all the quality controls (QC) in the morning, goes to the floor and draws all the patients, runs the tests, goes to the microbiology department, and draws blood from the emergency department.
Each morning, the Tech that comes at 6:00am runs QC on all our instruments. We need to make sure that QC is within range to ensure our instruments are working properly and will produces accurate results for our patients. After we get all the QC ran, the Tech that comes at 6:30am goes to draw blood from the patients that we have in the hospital. We draw them early in the morning so we can have results on the patients’ charts before the doctors come to do rounds on their patients. We come back to the lab and spin some of the tubes down to test the liquid part of the blood. Other instruments use only whole blood (tubes that haven’t been spun down).
The Tech that comes at 9:30am goes to our microbiology department and looks at all the cultures that were set up a day or two before. These are cultures can be from a patient’s urine, blood, sputum (what is coughed up) or a wound. We need to find out what bacteria is growing on the plates. A way to do that is to run a few tests that will tell us which panel to set up. These panels will let the doctors know which bacteria it is and what antibiotics be most helpful.
In our emergency room, we have people who come either by private car or ambulance. These patients arrive at any time of the day or night. After the nurse checks the patient over, most times the doctor will order lab tests and then we need to draw blood on them. Sometimes we must do an EKG (electrocardiogram) to see what the heart is doing so the doctor knows how to treat the patient. After we draw the blood, we bring the samples back to the lab and start testing them right away. These are called stat lab tests and get priority over any other tests needing to be run.
During the week we have outpatients that come to have their routine lab tests drawn. When an outpatient needs to have a lab test on a certain day, they are scheduled for an appointment with us. This is to avoid having everyone arrive at the same time so patients don’t have to wait very long and everything runs smoothly.
We have several departments that we run tests in:
- Hematology- checks for white count, hemoglobin and platelets
- Chemistry- checks for glucose, electrolytes and heart markers
- Urinalysis- checks for infection in the urine
- Blood Banking- checks what blood type you are and compatible blood for a transfusion
- Microbiology – checks what bacteria is growing in any culture
- Coagulation- checks how quick the blood clots
- We also do drug screens for many companies around the area
Every January, we get a new lab student who does an internship at Windom Area Health from the MN West College in Luverne, MN. While the student is here, they get trained on how to run each of our machines, draw blood and other lab tech duties. Sometimes, that student has the possibility of becoming an employee after graduation. That is exactly how I came to work here at Windom Area Health. I was a student here many years ago, graduated on a Friday and the next Monday I was an employee. I enjoy working here in the lab to see the patients and getting to know them. I enjoy the fact that I am helping each patient one test at a time to get them better or to stay healthy. I also love the fact that there are a variety of different tasks throughout the day, not the same thing over and over again. I love working with my coworkers. They are a great bunch and we have fun along the way.
In April of 2022, the last full week, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of National Lab Week. This year it is April 24-30. We bring treats for the hospital staff and guests to enjoy one day. We have a poster board that talks about lab stuff and trivia that people might not know about the lab. It just recognizes us for all the hard work we do behind the scenes.
If you would like to learn more about what our Laboratory Department does, click here to go to the webpage or call 507-831-0655.
By Dixie Duerksen, MLT