While we thank and salute the nurses and physicians on the front line of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, a vital group of people on another line of defense went virtually unrecognized during National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (April 19-25).
The pathologists and the laboratory personnel are collecting patient specimens, analyzing blood, urine and other body fluids, and getting the results to the physicians and nurses monitoring and treating the patients.
In addition to diagnosing COVID-19, they are testing for leukemias, cancers, diabetes, Hepatitis, and HIV for other patients. They are analyzing the blood gases, electrolytes, blood types (for transfusions) and other chemical and microbiological markers that are needed in following the progress of treatment of the COVID-19 positive patients and other ill patients in the hospital or clinics.
Without these laboratory specialists, doctors would be just guessing at a diagnosis and/or treatments. More than 70% of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, hospital admission and discharge are based on the results of the tests medical laboratory scientists perform.
Clinical laboratory scientists (a.k.a. medical technologists, cytologists, histotechs, etc.) have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree and have passed a board exam to become registered in their specific field(s). They study the following courses (plus more): Hematology, Coagulation, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Immunology and Immunohematology, Microbiology, Mycology, Parasitology, Virology, Cytology, Histopathology, Pathology, Urinalysis, Molecular Biology.
Hidden away in the hospital laboratory, often without windows, these professionals are at risk every day working with specimens that may have highly dangerous viruses or bacteria. These folks are the heroes also and deserve our round of applause!
Barbara L. Beninato