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A Day in the Life: Medical Lab Technician Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is April 22-26

Michael Townsend and Kim Phillips confirm the patient specimen name and orders match before receiving them into the computer.

Kim Phillips and Michael Townsend confirm the patient specimen name and orders match before receiving them into the computer.

As most of us are finishing up dinner or watching the evening news, Kim Phillips is just starting her day at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Phillips, a medical laboratory technician (MLT), works a 6:30 p.m.–7 a.m. shift in the centralized core lab at Children’s. She has worked in the lab for 13 years, starting as a lab assistant.

“We are busy from the minute we start,” said Phillips, who works with two other staff members during her shift.

Night supervisor Jarrod Stahl reviews test results with Kim Phillips.

Night supervisor Jarrod Stahl reviews test results with Kim Phillips.

The area, which is bustling with 20 or more MLTs, medical technologists and lab assistants during the day, may seem calm on Phillips’ late shift – but looks can be deceiving.

“There is never a quiet moment on the overnight shift,” she said. “Orders come in all night long. And we frequently head up to one of the floors to do a blood draw on a patient.”

The lab staff is continuously running blood and urine samples, and analyzing body fluids on all of the emergency room patients as well as inpatients and outpatients.

“Patient care and getting results out in a timely and efficient manner is our number-one concern,” she said as a pneumatic tube system, similar to what a bank may use in a drive-up lane, delivers a sample for Phillips to test.

Medical laboratory technologist Kim Phillips checks a patient's blood type and cross matches blood donor units to that patient.

Medical laboratory technologist Kim Phillips checks a patient’s blood type and cross matches blood donor units to that patient.

It’s a sample taken from a patient’s ventilator, and Phillips will check to see if there’s a microbe causing infection present by putting the sample on plates for the microbiology lab to analyze for any bacteria growth.

“If we find anything serious, we will alert the medical staff immediately,” she said. “If the rapid test results we find are not serious, we enter them into the computer for the doctor to review.”

Phillips goes about her evening plating samples and preparing them for further review.

“Some of the samples we work with can be reviewed immediately,” said Phillips. “Others need to grow and culture for some time. Organization is a key part of this job because you need to keep track of when each sample has to be run or reviewed.”

Kim Phillips, MLT, completes a urinalysis on a patient.

Kim Phillips, MLT, completes a urinalysis on a patient.

Just as Phillips finishes handling a culture sample, an order comes out of a small printer near her work station. A doctor needs blood drawn from a child on the 7th floor.

Phillips grabs a white jacket from her locker along with a colorful tray that’s filled with the supplies she needs for the blood draw.

The little boy is watching a cartoon as she enters the room.  “Hi buddy. What are you watching? Dora? Dora is so much fun.”

Phillips talks soothingly to the boy as she gets her supplies ready. “There will be a little pinch and, when I’m done, I’ll give you some fun stickers.”

Phillips quickly finishes the task and gives the little boy some super hero stickers. His tears stop as he looks at the colorful stickers.

“I try to treat all the children like I would want my children to be treated,” said Phillips, the mother of two young sons.  “I know I’m not their favorite person, and every situation is different, but if I stay calm and talk in a quiet voice, we can usually get through the procedure pretty quickly and without too much trouble.”

Phillips heads back down to the lab, but before she can even change from her white jacket to her blue lab coat, another blood draw request prints out and she heads to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Kim Phillips, MLT, looks at a blood smear slide.

Kim Phillips, MLT, looks at a blood smear slide.

“For older children depending on the amount of blood we need, we’ll do a vein puncture or, if just a small amount of blood is needed, a finger stick. In the NICU, though, we only do heel sticks to draw the blood,” she explained.

Back in the lab, Phillips begins to go through the samples that have come in from the many doctor offices affiliated with Akron’s Children’s.

She sorts through the samples and prepares them for review, all while keeping an eye on the pneumatic tube for more orders and specimens.

Phillips moves to the back of the lab where the blood bank is located. There she spends time typing blood so the hospital can accommodate its patients’ needs.

“We type blood for any of our patients who are scheduled for a surgery, as well as any of those who may require a blood transfusion,” she said.

Phillips continues throughout the night completing her tasks. The morning shift arrives and she briefs them on what went on during the night shift.

“I really enjoy my job,” she said as she heads home in the early morning hours to spend time with her children. “It is always changing and it’s always a challenge.”

If you’re interested in a medical laboratory career, check out our medical technology educational and training program or laboratory career opportunities.