Monday, 14 July 2014

Finally Graduating and Being Valedictorian

Though I finished my program in February, my official convocation wasn’t until a few weeks ago on June 21st in Toronto at the Centre for the Arts. I made the trip from Ottawa to celebrate my journey at The Michener Institute with family, friends and classmates.
Waiting to enter the hall with my friends Sarah and Steph!
I was honoured to be nominated and was selected to be the Valedictorian for the Class of 2014, something I had always had as a goal in the back of my mind. Speaking for the class of over 500 graduates was nerve-wracking but I believe my speech represented the class as a whole and I was also able to put Medical Laboratory Science in the spotlight. 

Receiving my Diploma (copyright The Michener Institute)

Why I did I want to be Valedictorian? At least the last 4 valedictorians had been males and my professors could not remember the last time someone from Laboratory Science was Valedictorian. I was thrilled to be able to represent laboratory professionals and women in science at convocation.

Also, I feel like I had something important to share on behalf of our class. Not only have I worked hard to be involved in the school and represent the Laboratory profession well, I also hoped to inspire our class to take what we learned and go out to make changes in the world. I feel my time at Michener shows that you should take pride in your profession and anyone can make a difference. While I was limited by time in my speech I did speak more about this in my Q&A interview on the Michener website here. 

Now you're probably curious about my speech! I was happy with how it went. Thankfully they had a giant spotlight on me so I was essentially blinded up at the podium (didn't have to worry about looking at anyone!) Many of my professors came to support me and had wonderful things to say after the ceremony which I greatly appreciated. 

Please feel free to share with anyone, especially new grads in Healthcare. I hope they find it as inspiring as my professors did!

Thank you all for your support!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Guest Blogger Jennifer O'Neill on Labcon 2014


My first guest poster is one of my good friends and fellow Michener Alum, Jennifer O'Neill! She worked closely on the Med Lab Students' Society with me and this year she had the opportunity to experience Labcon 2014 thanks to the CSMLS Leaders of Tomorrow Grant. Since I had such a great experience when I went to Labcon in 2013 (which you can check out here), I asked her to write a post about her time at Labcon and hopefully encourage you to head to the next conference!   - K


Last week I had an amazing opportunity to attend CSMLS Labcon2014 in sunny Saskatoon. The "sunny" part was an exaggeration as it rained everyday, but the conference was fantastic. I made new friends, heard talks about upcoming technology, and discussed current issues and new ideas within the medical laboratory profession. As a recent graduate, the networking experience was invaluable. I spoke to technologists from different departments across Canada, some working in areas I didn't even realize we could work in.

I am going to give you just a few highlights from my weekend at Labcon2014. If you want to know more, you'll have to experience it yourself!

One of my first sessions was Using Change Management in The Clinical Laboratory.  This talk by Susan McDonald from Siemens, gave a great explanation of how to handle change in the laboratory.  It was from the perspective of a workflow improvement manager, but I really felt that the advice given was applicable as a bench technologist as well.  She explained the "only thing constant in the lab is change" and provided tools and steps for embracing the inevitable evolution as labs alter their workflow and technology advances.

Generations 2.0 - Christine Neilsen's talk about the differences in the generations currently working in laboratories across Canada was filled with advice I wish I had heard a couple of years ago. The talk described the professional habits and values of each generation and gave examples of how they interact with each other.  Throughout my limited experience in the laboratory I have definitely witnessed occasional moments of frustration from my Generation Y colleagues when speaking to those from older generations.   It was great to really see how different generations operate and hopefully help to dispel those "lazy" and "entitled" Gen Y myths.  Learning how to be mindful of the values of all colleagues, both older and younger, is crucial in maintaining a positive work environment.

Speaking of generation differences--there was a big focus this year on social media and how we can adapt this into laboratory culture. Joel Riverio (@thefirstjoel), instructor at NAIT in Alberta demonstrated how he engaged his students via social media to create a fun learning environment tailored to his media-focused students. As a twenty-something new graduate, I use social media to interact with my colleagues, share science news, find volunteering opportunities, as well as discuss advice and ideas with current MLT students.  I was excited to see how Joel and CSMLS are connecting Twitter and Facebook with the laboratory profession.  We work in an area where change is constant and having more ways to share what's happening and keep everyone involved and engaged is a positive for everyone.  As social media isn't going away any time soon, it's important to embrace the
cultural shift towards it but also look for learning opportunities to educate everyone, on how to use social media appropriately.   I thought CSMLS did a great job this year with integrating social media into the various Labcon events. (#Labcon2014)

Used with permission from CSMLS
President's Reception, Lisette Vienneau (CSMLS Bilingual Director), Jennifer O'Neill (myself), Natalie Campbell (CSMLS President), and Jana Keogh, (fellow Leaders of Tomorrow Winner), Photo by CSMLS, used with permission

The President's Reception at the beautiful Delta Bessborough was fantastic.  I met so many great laboratory professionals from across Canada, who upon hearing I'm a new technologist had plenty of knowledge and advice to share with me.  It's always great to hear all the "things I wish I knew when I started" from those with lots of experience.  The chance to discuss the profession, the talks we attended, and what the future holds for laboratory science was great. And since the Saskatoon Jazz Festival was nearby, we were treated to some John Legend music outside!

There were so many other great things about this weekend, I could go on forever--the exhibitors, the swag (I'll never need to purchase a pen again!), talks about tissue banking, laboratory ethics, what's new in hematology, etc.

I would not have been able to attend Labcon if it wasn't for the CSMLS Leaders of Tomorrow Grant. This award (also won by Med Lab Maven herself last year), provided me with the means to attend and I highly encourage all current MLT students and recent graduates to apply for this award. Next year is in Montreal, QC so you know it will be an exciting conference!

Monday, 2 June 2014

On Getting a Job...

I've been anxiously waiting a little bit to make this post which contributed to my brief hiatus. I wanted to set into my job before blogging about it in case something horrible happened. Now that I have gotten over that worry, I wanted to share some bits and pieces about my first job as a Technologist!

Shortly after receiving my CSMLS results an opportunity present itself to interview for a full-time position in a Microbiology reference lab. Now for those who know me, this was basically my dream position. I have always wanted to work in Microbiology, combining my BSc with my technical training as an MLT.  Of course, being a very fresh new grad, I did not think I stood a chance to actually get the position but was thrilled to interview for it for the experience and to get my name out there, if nothing else. The interview went well and shortly after I got the email offering me the position!

The position itself covers a number of different departments. I currently work in the Tuberculosis lab processing, culturing and analyzing specimens - something not covered very in-depth in school! Everyday I process a variety of specimens ranging from tissues, pleural fluid, sputum and bronchial washings and then read the concentrate smears for acid fast bacilli via fluorescence microscopy. I recently completed my Level 3 training to work with pure cultures of mycobacteria grown in liquid media (MGIT) and solid media (Lowenstein- Jensen). The procedure to enter Level 3 is very tedious with many layers of scrubs, gloves, gowns and protective hood. I still think it blows my family's minds that I wear a PAPR and a "moon suit" every day.
Much more spacious version of what I wear
The TB lab is a very unique setting from other microbiology labs as it is so specialized. There are so many little things to know such as certain mycobacteria such as M.xenopi or M.gordonae grow in yellow balls in liquid media and may not be picked up by the machine. You have to carefully look at the tube media once it is taken out to make sure they are not missed. Also, I find it much more connected than other micro labs I have been in as I am constantly having to call physicians with positive results or speak directly with infection control practitioners who need results or have questions. I have already have to explain the processing procedure to a few interested physicians as well!

So far I am absolutely loving what I do and can feel the impact I am making on patients' lives. I am thrilled that my first technologist job is one that I love and where I want to be right now. It can only get better from here!


Monday, 28 April 2014

The Forgotten Healthcare Professionals

*Originally published on here*

Your doctor hands you a requisition with a handful of boxes checked off for a variety of tests after your yearly (or whenever you remember to go) physical. CBC, HDL, Glucose, Electrolytes…. What? You have no idea what these mean. You go get your blood drawn then you either never hear back from your doctor if everything is okay or you do…your glucose result is high. You’re diabetic.
For most people this sounds fairly normal. Their doctor orders testing, they go to a collection centre, magic happens and they get results back! Poof! But what most people are missing where and how those results are generated. How does your physician know you’re diabetic? Those results are created by a key component to the health care system – Medical Laboratory Scientists.

Shockingly, most people have never heard of Medical Laboratory Scientists, despite the fact we are the 3rd largest Health Care profession behind Physicians and Nurses. I’ve even had residents, physicians, many nurses and other health care professionals have their eyes glaze when I tell them I’m a Medical Laboratory Scientist. Somehow we have become the “forgotten” profession behind closed doors.

But in honour of National Med Lab Week from April 20th – 26th, I’m going to let you in on the secret of what you need to know about Medical Laboratory Science and hopefully you’ll join me in thanking a hidden faction of healthcare.

Medical Laboratory Scientists are responsible for producing any and all results that leave the laboratory. Blood Glucose results to diagnose diabetes? That’s us. Mole removed due to suspected melanoma? We take that skin section, analyze it, process it and turn it into a thin slide for the pathologist. A baby presents in the ER and the physician suspects meningitis? We get a sample of spinal fluid to the lab – we culture it, identify the bacteria growing and tell the physician what antibiotics will work.

It’s been reported that 85% percent of physician diagnoses rely on laboratory results and laboratory professionals are the ones getting those results. I like to say we give physicians information of what the body is actually doing. It’s one thing for them to put symptoms and reported issues together but we give the full picture and the WHY of those symptoms, from finding cancerous blood cells to transfusion reactions.

For myself, becoming a Medical Laboratory Scientist was an easy decision. Throughout secondary and post-secondary education, I was pulled towards science subjects and getting into the lab was the next step. Everyday, I am required to think on my feet and problem-solve to ensure the results that are leaving the lab are accurate. This can mean 5 hours of machine maintenance, calibration, and quality control so I know that the critical 24.0 mmol/L glucose result leaving the lab is true. This can also mean performing testing, strategically monitoring and issuing blood products for a stroke code in 60 seconds flat. My days are never boring and affect the care of thousands of patients a day even if I don't directly see them.

With all this, you can see how important and vital we are to the Health Care system. More and more diseases and conditions are being diagnosed via lab results and this number is only going to increase with more scientific developments. As a patient, being more informed about health care and the professionals involved is a great decision and will only help you to understand this complex system more.

Take time this week to show your support and thank a lab professional by going to in Canada or in the US. Everyone thanks their doctors and nurses for their cares but next time also try thanking a Laboratory Professional!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Artificial Blood: In a Blood Bank Near You?

News broke yesterday of British Scientists with Wellcome Trust having successfully manufactured Red Blood Cells from Stem Cells.

The Stem Cells these scientists used are actually "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" and as the article states, means they were cells that have been "rewound" back to become stem cells. Now for those of you who know your Hematopoesis charts, you know how Blood Cells are formed. For those who don't, here's a short review chart:

From this you can see that White Blood Cells (Myeloid), Red Blood Cells (Erythroid) and Platelets all come from a common progenitor cell. One could glean from this that we are perhaps not far off from having synthetically grown Platelets and WBCs that could be created a patient's own cells or from a cell line without antigens present on the surface.

Benefits to this would be a completely reduced risk of HLA incompatibilities from Platelets or WBCs present in blood products as well as the ability to produced antigen compatible red cell units for patients with multiple antibodies.

Of course the other benefit would be having more blood available due to not having to rely on the generosity of donors to keep the blood supply well stocked. This would also reduce the amount of testing required on blood units and perhaps even increase the longevity of units!

More Links on Artificial Blood:

How Stuff Works

Romanian Scientist on Artificial Blood