In Connecticut and California, there are two medical technologists who have each put in 50 years on the job in their respective hospital laboratories
On opposite coasts of the United States, two medical technologists (MT) were each recognized by local newspapers for more than 50 years of service in clinical laboratories in their respective communities! As members of what is often called the “Greatest Generation”, these two long-serving med techs have much to teach the three younger generations now working in the nation’s medical laboratories.
For the last 51 years, Sandra Allard has worked in the laboratory at Waterbury Hospital, in Waterbury, Connecticut. The 69-year-old typically works in the blood bank, but pulls one night a week in chemistry, according to an article published by the Republican-American, a newspaper in Waterbury. Jeffrey Pinco, M.D., the Medical Director of the hospital laboratory, described Allard as an employee who cares about the hospital’s patients and brings old-fashioned values to her job.
Across the country, Louise Newton, 71, just celebrated her 50-year anniversary of employment as a clinical laboratory scientist (CLS) in the microbiology laboratory at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. Newton’s career and experiences were profiled in an interview published by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Louise was the ‘Sharp Experience’ before it was even born,” commented Mike Martin, who is the Laboratory Administrative Director. He was referring to the phrase the hospital uses to describe its culture. “She exemplifies what it means to serve,” added Martin, himself a Sharp employee for 35 years. In addition to her tasks in the lab, he pointed out that Newton relishes the job of mentoring the up-and-coming microbiologists on staff.
50-Year Perspective Regarding Changes in Clinical Laboratory Testing
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure at the current job of workers aged 55 to 64 is 10 years. That is more than three times that of their younger counterparts, aged 25 to 34. For the latter group median tenure at the current job is 3.1 years. Many of today’s younger laboratory workers might find it hard to imagine working any one place for 10 years, much less 50 years.
“Fifty years is a long time to spend here,” said laboratory team leader, Helen Rychalsky, Allard’s colleague for 30 years, according to the Republican-American article. “It can get very stressful in the blood bank,” she added. “It’s [sometimes] just like on TV where you see them say, ‘We need blood stat!’ [T]hings can get crazy very quickly.”
At the time when Allard and Newton each started their careers, the world was a very different place, inside and outside the laboratory. John F. Kennedy was the 35th president. The Beatles performed for the first time at Liverpool’s Cavern Club. The Soviets launched a human being into space, and America set its sights on the moon.
Dramatic changes were also occurring within the clinical laboratory world. The 1960’s saw the introduction of the disposable hypodermic syringe and needle. The scanning electron microscope was developed for the market. The U.S. Congress enacted Medicare and Medicaid, followed by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA ’67). Anatomic pathology and medical laboratory medicine were coming into their own. Professional organizations were formed to promote professional identity and support education.
Medical Laboratory Experience That Will Be Difficult To Replace
On the West Coast, Newton recalls that, at the start of her career, hematology and chemistry testing was all done by hand. “We wore no gloves or lab coats back then,” she recalled. Newton described using patient note cards and wax pencils to label things. Media for growing bacteria was made from scratch. “We used syringes… and reused needles,” she said. “Nothing was disposable.”
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Allard has a personal appreciation of the crucial role of clinical laboratory testing and modern laboratory safety practices. While working in the blood bank, she contracted Hepatitis B, had a tumor removed from her spine, and survived breast cancer.
Both Allard and Newton recognize the many changes brought about by the use of computers and automation in the clinical laboratory. Newton stated that she especially appreciates the increased efficiency and accuracy that allows her to provide rapid lab test results to ordering physicians and to interact with them in real-time.
Training requirements to work in clinical laboratories are also very different now, compared to the 1960s. Today’s medical technologists must obtain a four- or five-year degree. Allard’s initiation into the world of laboratory science consisted of three years of on-the-job training provided by a pathologist. Newton attended three years of college and took a one-year training program before passing the national exam given by the American Society of Clinical Pathologist (ASCP).
There are two themes that come across in the stories of both of these knowledgeable medical laboratory professionals. One theme is the constancy of purpose displayed by Sandy Allard and Louise Newton, despite all the changes in clinical laboratory technology and the delivery of healthcare during the past five decades.
The second theme is the professionalism and caring about patients and co-workers that were a hallmark of both Allard and Newton during the course of their careers as a medical technologist and clinical laboratory scientist. Neither individual is talking about retirement, but it is obvious that the considerable experience they’ve accumulated will be difficult to replace when each person retires.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dark Daily extends an invitation to readers to forward similar stories of other med techs, clinical chemists, lab scientists, and pathologists, who have 50 or more years of lab service!
—Pamela Scherer McLeod