We've shown you several examples of caregivers on the front lines of patient care, but there are also hundreds of health care professionals that work behind-the-scenes. Communications Coordinator Helene Gleason joins us now with a look at some of these less visible, but very valuable careers that are in high demand.
Helene Gleason: It's a scenario that's all too common; you've been up all night with a fever, sweating, coughing, suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath. As you lie in the Emergency Room, have you ever wondered how nurses and doctors determine what's making you sick? It may surprise you to learn that 70 percent of diagnosises are made not at your bedside, but in a laboratory. And that journey to a diagnosis and treatment usually starts with the little prick of a needle.
Hi, my name is Missy from the lab. We hear you're not feeling well today. We're just going to get a little blood work to see what's going on.
Abra Elkins: Phlebotomists are specially skilled people who train in the collection of blood specimens. And there's a great need for those as well. I'm going to need you to cough very deeply and if you could expectorate some of that into my cup here, that would be great. Okay. Real deep cough.
Helene Gleason: After your blood and sputum samples are collected, the phlebotomist and nurse send them off to the microbiology lab, one of five labs at Memorial, where the behind-the-scenes investigators we call medical technologists, are hard at work.
Lary Koval: One of the major differences of the microbiology lab is we do cultures here where we actually grow organisms, bacteria or fungi, and that takes a while to do.... Every time you pick up a culture plate you are seeing something different and it's always a challenge to try to identify those organisms and let the physician know what is causing any infection.
Helene Gleason: In addition to the blood cultures, which will incubate for several days, the sputum sample will also undergo testing.
Kathy Krozek: We put some of the specimen onto each of these plates and then we're going to streak the plates for isolation and we'll identify any pathogens that may be present. We put the octagen or P disks onto the blood plate and we'll incubate them in the incubating at 35 degrees for 18 hours and tomorrow we will look for growth.
Helene Gleason: While the plates incubate overnight, let’s turn our attention to some another laboratory career-Now, a glimpse at those working in the histology lab. Histo, Greek for tissue, technologists are laboratory professionals who have a very special job---they find the answers to medical questions raised by the living and left unanswered by the dead.
Michele Demarco: think even anybody when they hear of laboratory they automatically think of blood or body fluids and tissue analysis sometimes gets left to the side because it is behind the scenes but it is very important.
Helene Gleason: Very important indeed, especially if you're one of the thousands of women who will undergo a breast biopsy this year. What happens to a tissue sample once it's removed and how is it tested? These are questions for the histotechnologist.
Gerry Campagna: We ink the other surgical reception margin of the breast lump. This is going to mark to make sure that any of the tumor that may be within this lump is not extending beyond the black marking die. So when we have the surgical slides prepared tomorrow the pathologist sees tumor slides in or near the black marked area they'll know that the tumor is going beyond the surgical margin and they need to notify the surgeon of that.
Helene Gleason: Once the tissues that come through here are dyed, the samples are placed in tissue cassettes and will process overnight... In the meantime, let's check back in with our medical technologist Kathy in the Microbiology lab--where a verdict is in.
Kathy Krozek: After 18 hours we look at the blood plate for growth and zones of inhibition around the P disks. There are several types of strep pneumonia colonies.
Helene Gleason: Once the medical technologists complete testing, a pathologist, or a physician specializing in processing and reporting specimens, will have the final say.
Dr. Ashcraft: I agree. This looks like streptococcus pneumonia.
Helene Gleason: Thanks to the hard work of med techs in the microbiology lab, another diagnosis has been made allowing another patient to receive appropriate treatment. The labs at Memorial perform three and a half million tests a year. You heard right three and a half million. Abra Elkins, Director of Conemaugh's School of Medical Technology, says that their training here prepares students for just about any situation.
Abra Elkins: They go to the laboratory, they watch one day, they do one day, and then they get to participate in doing some of the actual testing while they are completing their training program. So they get to see how the traumas are handled in blood bank. They get to handle the stats in hematology and chemistry and use the microscope in microbiology and do the biochemical testing on the bacteria that they grow and identify down there and they get the feel of not only the techniques and the procedures that are needed to be done in the laboratory but also the flow of the work and the change in intensity of the work as the day goes by. Helene Gleason: Now let's return to our histology lab, where they are preparing the breast tissue for analysis- to determine if it's benign or cancerous.
Gerry Campagna: what we want to do is preserve that tissue in the most life-like state that it was in the body before it was removed. And that's where the histotech comes to work.
Helene Gleason: After the tissue goes through a chemical process, it is dehydrated and the finished product is encased in paraffin or wax then cut into ultra-thin sections-a process that requires practice, something that students at Conemaugh's School of Histology get plenty of.
Gerry Campagna: Well, we do a lot of hands-on training because to be able to process the tissues like I had mentioned, it takes a great deal of repetition to become good at it. It's like you're learning an art form or a craft.
Helene Gleason: When the slides are ready for analysis, they're given to Dr. Ashcraft.
Dr. Ashcraft: We often see the cell is more crowded and varying quite a bit in size and shape, and I do not see this in this particular case. So this looks like fibrocystic change and it is a benign condition.
Helene Gleason: While histotechs are responsible for helping to find diagnoses like this one, they are also relied upon to find answers from beyond the grave.
Gerry Campagna: We were the forensic morgue for five counties at this time, and there's a lot that comes out of that, a lot of satisfaction. A well-done autopsy can help convict a guilty person, exonerate an innocent person, get the benefits for a family that they deserve, also it's a good, in a lot of cases it's a good closure process for the families, for them to find out what exactly happened to their loved one. Helene Gleason: Whether it's working in a hospital in the morgue, or in private business, there are many job opportunities for histo techs. So much so, that the School of histology at Memorial has begun a dual enrollment, now accepting nine students. And across the board, according to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor, laboratory science careers will experience above-average job growth through the year 2014.
Tony Campagna: The demand for lab techs now is growing tremendously. A couple reasons. One is that we are aging group. If you even look at our staff here at Memorial we have people and probably 60 percent of the lab that's probably going to retire about the same time. So we're going to have a lot of openings. We employ around 200 people in our laboratory so if you think about that and the possibility of retirement that's going to occur and I spent some time on the phone the other day talking to some of my peers and they are all facing the same dilemma.
Helene Gleason: For every care giver you see, remember, there are several more health care professionals you don't see -- out of the spotlight -- but in critical, lifesaving positions.
Dr. Schenfeld: There's only so many doctors and so many nurses and behind each of those roles are other critical support personnel, the lab technicians, the micro-technicians, and we all play a vital role. We're all part of the same team. It's like you can't play a baseball game with just a pitcher and a catcher. You really have to have everybody on the field doing their job.