Medical lab techs; they "vant to suck your blood"

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jeff Parkinson
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Medical laboratory technicians collect blood, but there is more to being a lab tech than just that.

Lab techs see 50 to 60 patients a day, and each may require up to five tests.

"Surprisingly, people don't pass out too often," said Senior Master Sgt. Kristi Binard, 1st Special Operations Medical Support Squadron diagnostics and therapeutics flight chief.
"We may experience two to three patients a week who may feel faint, but not actually pass out. Our training and experience plays a huge role in seeing the signs early so we can mitigate those situations."

When a patient feels faint, the tech will stop the blood collection and have the patient take deep breaths to avoid dizziness. If that fails, a lab tech requests assistance from a doctor or nurse.

"Most of the time, it only requires a little time for the patient to regain their bearings," Binard said.

Being a lab tech can be difficult when the patient can't talk or understand what's going on.

"We try to be funny and quick," said Binard. "With infants, we try to soothe them with our voice and actions. With older children, we believe they deserve to know what the process is and reassure them that it will be quick and less painful than a bee sting."

All this work is just what the patient sees, from the customer service representative checking them in, to the lab tech that takes their blood samples.

But what happens after the samples are taken?

Hurlburt lab techs process about 300 tests a day, and that's all done behind the scenes.

"We have several areas in our lab, such as hematology, chemistry, urinalysis and serology," Binard said. "We also have a shipping department where we send samples to reference labs across the nation."

Lab techs provide diagnostic information for doctors to make treatment decisions for patient care, and they collect blood for pre-deployment clearance and post-deployment care.

"We do tests on blood, urine and stool, respiratory secretions, spinal fluid, etc.," said Airman 1st Class Ozias Sanchez, 1st SOMDSS medical laboratory technician.

Most of the test results are numerical value results, meaning the tests give a number that falls in a spectrum for that test. For example, the expected range for adult cholesterol is less than 200 miligrams per deciliter, 200 to 240 mg/dl is borderline, and greater than 240 mg/dl is considered high, according to Binard.

"The majority of patients at Hurlburt are healthy," said Binard. "Perhaps two to three times a week we have to call a [doctor] for a critical result."

Samples are kept in the lab for approximately seven days in case a repeat test is requested by a doctor. After that, the samples start to degrade and are no longer reliable for accurate results.

Doctors rely heavily on experts like lab techs to pinpoint the source of a patient's illness so treatment can be successful.

"There's a psychological part that comes into play [when it comes to the tests]," said Sanchez. "Every test you're doing could change a patient's life, for example, if you point out something [incorrectly] the doctor could give the patient an incorrect dosage of medicine and potentially harm them."

Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is April 20 through 26, which is an annual celebration.

"Lab techs are more than just the person who draws your blood," said Binard. "We are also behind the scenes working methodically in the lab performing tests where it all counts.

"We work hard to supply the provider with necessary tools to aide in the diagnosis and treatment for each of our wonderful patients," he added.