Interview with a Medical Technologist

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
Reference Lab Medical Technologist. I have worked seven years as a Reference Lab Technologist in a Blood Bank.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
Only 20 percent of Medical Technologist opt to work in the field of Immunohematology often referred to as blood banking. A technologist in a hospital blood bank is quite different from working as a technologist in a blood bank facility. In addition, a reference technologist is different from a medical technologist.

As a reference technologist in a Blood Bank, I was responsible for analyzing cases that hospital technologists could not resolve. This may be due to the lack of necessary reagents or the case was too difficult. Many hospitals do not have the staff or reagents determine if a patient has underlying antibodies.

An average case for a warm autoantibody would take at least six to eight hours to resolve. A warm autoantibody is dangerous because it can hide an underlying antibody. It is critical to the patient’s safety to determine if there are underlying antibodies. Otherwise, if I would prescribe a unit of blood that contained the antigen of the antibody, this could result in a transfusion reaction.

I love this line of work because it is investigative. It is rewarding when I discover rare blood types and I am able to provide a safe unit of blood for a patient in need. In addition, this is a fast-paced job as many patients may be on the operating table and are in dire need of a transfusion. I have to work fast and I have to maintain 100 percent accuracy.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to unleash your full enthusiasm, talent and productivity?
I would rate this job a 10. While many days I am inundated with type and screens, which are routine, there are always unique cases to challenge my abilities.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned to handle human blood products carefully. While the bags are sturdy, under certain conditions the bags can burst. I walked into the walk-in refrigerator to grab a basket of reference blood units. The basket was too full. I should have separated the units into two baskets. However, I was in a hurry. I pushed the door open to get out of the refrigerator. I did not know a unit of blood was dangling from the basket. It fell to the ground and burst as I shut the door on the unit. I was covered in blood from the knees down. The blood spattered on the walls of the lab and there was a huge puddle on the floor. It looked like a crime scene.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
While the education is extensive, the one thing you do not learn is how to deal with difficult doctors and nurses. Many of the nurses and doctors do not understand how long each test takes to complete. The professionals will call you several times to find out where the results are and why you have not finished the necessary testing.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I was a lab assistant in the components area of the blood bank. We manufactured human blood products. I loved all aspects of blood banking and decided to attend school to become a technologist.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I went into the walk-in freezer to get a tray of frozen plasma. The freezer door jammed because of the buildup of ice. I could not get out and panicked. I forgot there was an alarm button and began pounding on the door and screaming. After a few minutes, a coworker heard my pleas for help.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
A good day is handling a difficult case and getting a phone call from the hospital the patient is alive and well.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
The equipment we use is sensitive and require extensive troubleshooting. When equipment fails, you often have to complete tasks manually. This is time consuming and frustrating when you have orders for blood products that are STATs. A STAT order is one that must be completed in one hour or less.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
The job is extremely stressful! If I make a mistake, a patient can die. However, there are checks and balances that ensure dangerous mistakes are not made. We usually work eight-hour shifts and over time is voluntary. I am able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. However, I like to finish each case I begin, so I do work a significant amount of hours.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
$52,000 per year plus overtime. This depends on the shift I work. Evening and midnight shifts pay at least a 15 to 20 percent shift differential.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
We had a young child who was in desperate need of a plateletpheresis. The blood type was AB negative. We unfortunately did not have one in stock. I searched all over the state and found one and had it delivered to our facility. In addition, I worked with our donor services staff to contact previous donors. We worked as a team and obtained enough products to support this child’s platelet therapy protocol.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
We lost power due to a storm and our back-up generators failed. We had to call in a refrigerated truck and load all of the blood and frozen products into the truck. We had to move quickly because there are regulations on how long a product can be out of temperature. We did not want to lose hundreds of products and we had to maintain the temperature of each product. I never want to go through that type of situation again.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
This depends on the state in which you work. In my state, a two-year degree is sufficient. In addition, I had to pass a licensing exam. I maintain my license by meeting the 24 hours of continuing education requirement.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
If they love lab work and enjoy a fast-paced environment, I would tell them to go to school to become a technologist.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I get five weeks of vacation each year. I am grateful for the five weeks.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
Many people believe automation will reduce the need for medical technologists. While analyzers are fast and produce results, it takes the expertise of a well-trained technologist to catch inconsistencies in the analyzers. It also takes an experienced technologist to maintain and troubleshoot the analyzers when equipment failure occurs.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
Behind each specimen is a human being. It is always rewarding when you find a unit of blood for a patient in dire need. Sometimes I have to make phone calls to other blood banks to find a rare unit. When that lifesaving unit is transfused into the patient and it saves the patient’s life, I feel wonderful.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Working as a reference technologist in a Blood Bank.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I was nervous and insecure when I worked on my first patient specimen. As a new technologist, I made many mistakes. Of course, a senior technologist always checked my work. I am proud of the knowledge I have acquired. Now I train new technologists.