Franki-Marie Herdt, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Region VIII Representative
I first stepped into a laboratory as a child in biology class, as most kids do. I loved the hands-on projects and real-world information we were given. Getting real answers to “Why is the sky blue?” was thrilling. As I got older, I continued to be drawn to the sciences. I took numerous science classes throughout high school—physics, biology, and zoology. I hadn’t specialized within a specific field of science until trying to decide on a college major.
Medical and crime shows directed me toward the type of science I know and love today. I decided on a degree in microbiology after going over all the different things I loved about my science classes—I really enjoyed sections of the classes that involved any microscopic work. After choosing microbiology, I started looking for a school that was close (but not too close) to home to pursue it further.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t as common of a field as I thought. After visiting a few local colleges, I decided on the University of Wyoming for my undergraduate degree in microbiology. Being a school deeply grounded in agriculture, my microbiology degree had a lot of veterinary background instead of medical. I believe this helped give me a well-rounded experience and knowledge base.
After graduating college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had worked at the State Veterinary Laboratory during most of my college career, so I was familiar with the research side and veterinary aspects of microbiology. I reviewed some of the classes I took my senior year hoping to narrow my search for my ideal job. One class that specifically caught my eye was Prion Biology. I was tasked with presenting on the Prion disease, Kuru, which helped me dive into medicine and the medical field. I slowly realized I wanted to go into more of the medical side of microbiology.
I applied at numerous hospitals around my area hoping to work in one of the laboratories. I discovered the laboratory I am currently at after many job searches online. I applied for one of the technologist positions, but I wasn’t qualified. Thankfully, since I had substantial laboratory background from the veterinary laboratory, they hired me as a lab assistant on the evening shift. I loved it! I got to work hands on with patient samples, including setting up samples in microbiology. However, after a while, I soon realized this wasn’t my forever job.
While working there, I noticed the work that the technologists were doing alongside me. They were analyzing hematology, chemistry, blood bank, and microbiology specimens and helping physicians make a diagnosis. I loved watching them work and eventually wanted a piece of the action. I wanted to see the organisms and know more about the diseases they were causing.
After getting to know my coworkers, I asked them how they got their technologist jobs. They told me about the certification process and the schools offering the programs. I knew I needed to find a program that allowed me to work while taking classes since I was already out of school and had bills to pay. I searched through many online programs that all had different requirements. Weber State University ended up being the right choice for me since it was an online program and clinicals were mixed with the courses instead of having it all at the end of the year.
While in school for the year, I did my clinicals concurrent with the classwork. This helped me get hands-on experience while learning the subject in that same week. I believe it helped me retain the knowledge a lot better since I was an online student. The clinicals also allowed me to get to know my laboratory better. I now knew what the technologists needed for testing and helped answer their questions before they asked them. It helped me be a better laboratory assistant for them.
I eventually was able to transfer into the Microbiology Department at my lab as a technologist and found my forever home. I absolutely love what I do, and my coworkers are just as passionate, which makes our jobs a lot more enjoyable. Who knew I would enjoy learning something new every day? Even though we work with specimens most people would find repulsive, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Getting to participate more with physicians and infection control gives me an excitement with which to come into work every day. I can see the difference we get to make for every single patient. The next hill to climb is to hopefully become the lead in my department.
There are many ways to get where I am today, and no way is better or worse than another. Some people benefit from an immersed program where others strive in a more freedom-based program. Once everyone starts to understand this and respect each other, the communications between inner-lab departments and the rest of the hospital will come together.
If I learned anything from this experience, it was that you will eventually find your forever home. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to major in at college, my father told me to find something I love. The job will fall in place after that. I am proof of that advice. You don’t want to be stuck in a job you don’t love, so strive to find your perfect job and life. Realizing that every life experience is a stepping stone to something better can help to get through the boring classes, hard jobs, and unpleasant situations.
Franki-Marie Herdt is a medical technologist in microbiology at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming.