Kelcey E Harper, MLS(ASCP)CM, New Professionals and New Members Forum Chair

When I was a student, I spent countless hours studying for exams hoping I would make it to graduation. Prior to graduation, I spent hours searching for jobs hoping I would get an offer before I even had my degree in hand. I didn’t want just any job, I wanted THE job. As a student, I had so many interests in different subject areas and it was hard to choose a favorite. I kept this in mind while applying for jobs. I didn’t want to limit myself to one department. I wanted to grow my skill set in as many departments as possible. I searched for jobs as a generalist, but found they were few and far between. Many hospitals began switching over their labs into specialties, where a MLS would only work in a single department.

During the spring semester of my senior year, the program director sent my class a job posting for a generalist position at a small, orthopedic hospital in Boston, one with which I was unfamiliar. I decided to apply and soon after I was called in for an interview. During the interview, I felt like I could see myself working there. After leaving the interview, I remember the giant smile I had on my face. I wanted that job, I wanted to be a part of their team. Soon after, I received a job offer from this small, orthopedic hospital and I graciously accepted.

I started at my new job in June of 2016. I was going to be one of the few MLSs trained in every department: hematology, chemistry, blood bank, and microbiology. Going in, I was extremely nervous. During clinical rotations in school, you are constantly observing and putting into use everything you have learned. You’re gaining experience from seasoned MLSs and trying to absorb everything they teach you in so little time. I was most nervous about making mistakes, even though as a new MLS I was bound to make them. 

My first day of training was a long one. I was not accustomed to waking up at 4 a.m. to be at work on time. Nevertheless, I started my day in chemistry where I was being shown each different type of rack the Siemens Dimension® EXL™ uses for patient samples. Each sample rack had different colors—yellow, black, and orange. Black racks were for full tubes, yellow and orange for pour offs, A1Cs, etc. I felt pretty confident in choosing the proper rack and loading it on the instrument. However, less than 15 minutes into my shift of loading on the morning run, I heard a loud noise coming from the instrument. The probe had crashed because I left the caps on the tubes. I thought to myself “what a rookie mistake.” We had to change the probe before continuing on with the morning run. I felt awful and sick to my stomach. After the run was over and we had some downtime, I went into the restroom to regain my composure. Later that day, I knocked over a rack of A1Cs. Needless to say, I was counting down the hours until it was time to go home. I powered through my shift until 3:30 p.m., when I clocked out and had a long drive home. I broke down from being so disappointed in myself and then I remembered what the senior MLS told me before leaving for the day, “We have all done it, many times. It is just a probe.” I was able to find comfort in that and prepare for the next day. 

Confidence on the bench comes from experience and learning from your mistakes. We make mistakes when we are too afraid of making mistakes. We are not perfect and we certainly do not know everything there is to know about the lab. Crashing that probe was more than a mistake, it was a humbling experience for me and it will make me a better MLS. This was not going to be the only mistake I ever made, but it will be the last time I forget to take the caps off the tubes! Although that day was a low point, there were many more highs to count. After chemistry I moved to hematology. When hematology ended, I started training in microbiology and blood bank. I fell in love with microbiology and I finally found the one department where I felt like I belonged. 

The culture of our lab is a very supportive one, from the lab manager down to the MLSs. It is a family-like atmosphere where you can grow and thrive. They pride themselves on the mentorship of young MLSs so no matter where they might go next, they will be prepared for whatever is tossed at them. Our supervisors do whatever they can to give us as many educational opportunities as possible, including attending professional society meetings. Many MLSs are given projects to work on such as lab safety, updating procedures, and validating instrumentation. After my initial training, I became a team leader for the hospital’s Antibiotic Stewardship Program (ASP).

I began collection data on perioperative antibiotic usage and putting together the year’s antibiogram. Working on the ASP gave me the opportunity to communicate and work together alongside physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. In blood bank, I was given the task of creating the maintenance schedule and revamping it to increase compliance. The added administrative responsibilities have given me new knowledge and skills I can take with me wherever I go.

If there is one take away from my first year on the bench, it’s that there is always something left to learn, whether you have been a MLS for 40 years or you are a baby MLS like me. Mistakes will be made and probes will crash but perseverance is key. Never give up and never doubt yourself. Keep persisting. Everything we do in the lab is for the benefit of our patients. We do this for them and we save lives every day. 

Don’t forget—one day you’ll be the senior MLS watching a newbie crash the probe, just like you did on your first day.