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


Monday, 14 April 2014

Important Mail and Exam Study Tips

On March 31st I received that fateful envelope from the CSMLS letting me know I passed the General MLT Exam - officially making me a Medical Laboratory Technologist! I'm excited to be able to put another set of letters behind my name ;)

It's Good!

I'm sure my apartment mail man was annoyed at my stalking his van everyday and leaving work on my break to frantically drive home and check the mail. I honestly was overwhelmed with anxiety once I saw friends receiving their letters letting them know they passed! The next time I have to receive results by mail I'm going to move to that city so I can receive them faster (ok, maybe not) but I'm thrilled that I can finally say I am a Medical Laboratory Technologist!

Now for those of you writing in the near future you are probably thinking "shut up! get to the exam study tips!" And I will. But I want to put a disclaimer that you have to remember to take how you study into consideration. Some people prefer to study alone, some people like to write their own notes etc. You have to know you the best and structure your studying time wisely! First, I'm going to answer some questions I know I had before I started studying for the CSMLS exam.

When did you start studying?

It's tough to say when exactly I started studying but I *officially* started studying with my planned method every night January 10th for my exam on February 20th. I was in clinical from September 3rd - February 7th and during this time I took my notes with me to the lab and studied during downtimes as well as I studied occasionally at night.

What did you use as a study guideline?

Print this out, frame it, make copies of it, tape it to walls - whatever you need to do to know it. The CSMLS Exam Handbook has the exact percentages of what types of questions you can expect to see. Obviously it's not going to say "5 questions on Salmonella" but it does break down which concepts you can expect like QC, safety, transfusion application questions etc.

How did you structure your studying?

I laid out a calendar with what subject I would be studying each night per week. By January I knew which subjects I would need to be studying more than others. For me, Micro, Heme and Transfusion were my strong subjects (especially since I was ending my clinical on Transfusion) so I focused less on those topics and more on Chemistry, Histology, Lab Math and the Safety Manual.

Ensuring your studying is structured will help prevent yourself from getting too focused on one subject. You have to remember that the exam covers EVERYTHING and just because you might know one subject really well that doesn't mean you should forget the other ones. In the same vein, you have to sometimes decide what you can and cannot learn in that amount of time. I know I had to forgo reviewing some topics because it was a lost cause at that point.

Nifty Study Calendar
Nifty Study Calendar

I highly recommend getting yourself a small calendar, printing one off the internet or getting a small flip pad to keep yourself organized and on track. I picked up this little flip pad for $1 at Target and it was one of my best purchases!

What were your study techniques?

Again, this is what worked for me and may not work for you.

First, I consolidated my notes into my own words on study sheets. This is a patented "Krista" method (even my classmates know that's how I study) that I've been using since university and helps me digest more information quickly. I turn large PowerPoints into short form notes with key points I need to know rather than having to flip through the 107 slides per lecture we are given. This also makes me write out the information in my own words and hopefully helps it stick in my memory.

Second, I used cue cards to make small note books with testing information, reference ranges and even SHORTER versions of my study notes so I could carry a lot of information with me at once and use them as memory joggers. These were usefully as I got closer to the exam and just needed to refresh my memory or locate information quickly.

2 of my many cue card sets!
2 of my many cue card sets!

I also used the QUICK REVIEW CARDS (which are finally coming out with a new edition this year!). These things are magic and if you don't want to consolidate your notes yourself I highly highly recommend them. They really have almost everything you should need to study everything except Histology since they are US cards for the ASCP exam. I did a full in-depth review last year which you can check out on my blog!

Lastly, I studied with two classmates that I studied with during my 2nd semester of school via Google Hangouts. We all lived in different cities so doing it online was the best way and also allowed us to have all our notes with us without having to haul them to the library. I've talked about Google Hangouts before  and how I used them successfully to raise my grades and I'm a huge advocate for it.

We quizzed each other using our notes, quiz sets from Laboratory Review Books and, where you can play a free quiz game. Keep in mind LabCE is an American site so some of the questions are a little off but generally it's a pretty good tool.

It has been shown in many studies that quizzing helps you to retain information better than you would without quizzing. It's helping you to apply the knowledge you've learned and actually think about what you've read rather than just reciting it back. Another benefit to studying with others is they might have a stronger grasp on a concept than you and vice versa. You can help each other out and think of things in different ways which is only going to help you in the end!

At the end of all the studying when I got to the exam I felt very prepared and actually felt like I had *over-studied* some things. I was expecting questions on a few things that I didn't see but there was the occasional surprise as well! The one thing to keep in mind is that if you've made it through your entire program and through clinical you are almost all the way there of being prepared.  You know more than you think you know and with proper studying and time management you can pass the exam too!

Congrats to those who passed and good luck to those writing!

-Krista, B.Sc, MLT

(Sorry I had to!)