After blood is drawn and sent to a laboratory, a medical technician may proceed with complex testing.
Not for the first time, clinical laboratory technicians are in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Health Care Support Jobs. Former Information Technologist (IT) Devon Turner tells us why that might be, and why the lab is an excellent place both to automate work and to feel connected to actual patients—while getting a bit of daily exercise on the job.
1.With a bachelor’s degree in physics, you formerly considered radiology training. What’s something you really enjoy about your work?
Our training in medical laboratory sciences (MLS) is very scientific, including anatomy, and physiology—physical and biochemical functions that occur in humans. In the lab you process specimens, but you may also think about what bodily processes might explain any situation. For instance, if the potassium value in a specimen is abnormally high, you might think, “Maybe someone sent this in the wrong tube.” This helps you to troubleshoot and get correct test results.
2.What else is interesting?
It’s exciting that there is so much breadth to the field. You might be really interested in genetics—you could go into that area; or maybe you prefer gross anatomy, so you’d specialize in oncology (study of tumors) or cytology (study of cell structure and function). Or maybe you’d head toward chemistry. Those are vastly different choices.
“In the lab you process specimens, but you may also think about what bodily processes might explain any situation. For instance, if the potassium value in a specimen is abnormally high, you might think, ‘Maybe someone sent this in the wrong tube.’ This helps you to troubleshoot and get correct test results.”
Medical Lab Technician
3. Are there other labs you’d like to know?
Oh, always. For instance, recently I spoke with someone in cytogenetics. The name itself is neat, and there’s a cutting-edge aura because you’re doing genetics, but there’s still something fairly manual about the work—you’re able to interact with it. That has an appeal too. You get the chromosomes together and arrange them for study.
4. Why did you choose to become a medical laboratory technician (MLT)?
I was working in IT, but wanted an exit plan because of management changes; I realized that I could train for two years and become a MLT. That was much simpler than seeing how long it would take me to get into work in another department at my company or do something else, and it turned out to be a very satisfying choice.
5. What’s this about exercise?
In IT, I sat in a chair with a headset and answered phone questions all day. I look back and realize I had a devil of a time getting even a little movement. But these days at work, I get up and go to the computer, I go to the sample racks, I move all the time.
5. Beyond the workout, are there other clear benefits of your job?
In medicine, there’s always a degree of fulfillment because you’re helping other people. In my work, it’s nice that there is enough stimulation: performing each assay is sufficient challenge that you don’t get bored. While I don’t know for sure because I didn’t study radiology, my impression is that it involves helping a patient get situated in the right way, then moving the X-ray tube in the correct way. And I don’t think that would be enough variety for me. But as a MLT there’s also a routine, so that you aren’t re-inventing the wheel every day. In addition, it is an introvert-friendly job: You don’t have to sell things, or talk to patients every day. You come in and do your work, release results, and you’re done. And it is nice that your work is portable, so if you ever live elsewhere and that place has a hospital, you have a high chance of finding work.
6. So, physics. Would you have been happier doing that?
In physics, you must buy time to look at an array, then do programming and later some data analysis. I don’t necessarily hate the idea of that, but I very much like the physical, tangible parts of my current work. I like thinking ‘This test tube represents the patient,’ rather than have everything be so theoretical—and frankly, intangible.
Catherine Arnold, Science Communications Writer