The department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at IWK has a team of approximately 135 health and support professionals including laboratory physicians, laboratory scientists, medical laboratory technologists, medical laboratory assistants, licensed practical nurses, lab information system coordinators, a lab standards coordinator, a registered nurse and a number of administrative staff. In addition to the huge number of services the lab offers—including some that operate 24/7—it is the only facility east of Montreal to offer intrauterine transfusions and the only one in Nova Scotia to offer maternal antibody titers.
The work performed in the lab by medical laboratory technologists spans several areas such as anatomical pathology, transfusion medicine and newborn screening to name just a small few. The volume of testing and completed in the IWK’s lab across these areas is truly impressive. In 2022, there were 170,484 blood collections performed at the IWK and 4,229,489 lab tests verified in house while the pathology team examined tissue specimens from 2,270 IWK patients and 192 patients from other hospitals.
Amy Power has been with the IWK for 11 years and works as a medical laboratory technologist II – resource technologist. Power is responsible to coordinate and schedule daily operations for the core and outpatient lab. She organizes the training for new staff and students and responds to lab related safety events. She also works with clinical leaders from around the hospital to enhance services and processes.
“I love that my workday is different every day. Our incredible team is consistently working together to problem solve and overcome our challenges and we are so lucky to have such amazing staff all working together. I love the tight knit family feeling at the IWK between staff members throughout the entire hospital. Our hospital has some of the best and brightest staff in Canada and they are all working together to ensure that patient and family centered care is at the forefront. It really does feel like a community all working together for the same cause,” says Power.
Tina Misener has been a part of the IWK team for 27 years. She began as a volunteer when her sister was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of three. Happily, her sister is now 33! Misener works in anatomical pathology. This area of the lab examines every piece of tissue that is removed from a patient ranging from small skin biopsies to full organs. They make diagnoses based on the macroscopic and microscopic appearance of these tissues.
“The labs expectation is to clinically test specimens in hopes of obtaining information required for a diagnosis and treatment plan, as well as the prevention of diseases,” says Misener. Knowing am part of making a difference is one of the things I enjoy most about my work. Each of our roles play an integral part in coming together to honour the IWK mission to create a healthy future for women, children, youth and families. I take peace in knowing our department collaborates together to provides the best possible health care and our whole team goes above and beyond.”
Cathy McAuley is a medical laboratory technologist II for transfusion medicine and has been with the IWK for more than 35 years. McAuley spends a lot of her time at work at the lab bench testing samples and performing investigations. Additionally, she supervises the training of students and new staff and works to ensure the Blood Bank is compliant with standards including Health Canada Guidelines. McAuley is involved in standardizing provincial processes for testing and reporting, serves as a member of Canadian Obstetrical and Pediatric Transfusion Network and liaises with other departments at the IWK to ensure blood components are onsite for complex surgeries.
“There’s always something new to learn in the lab! As our profession continues to grow and evolve, it’s great to see new staff come in and suggest ways we can improve organization of lab areas,” says McAuley. “Testing of samples to provide results to physicians starts in the lab. We report sad news so that treatment can be started right away. We report good news that someone is expecting a new addition to their family, or that treatment is making a positive difference.”
As you can tell, the Med Lab has a critical task to play, but at all times they must balance the merits of speed versus accuracy. How fast work can be done depends on the case. Sometimes a diagnosis will be requested while a patient is still asleep in the operating room which can be done as quickly as 20 minutes. Most times, the process takes a few days and more complicated autopsy reports can take a couple of months to complete.
“In our work, we can never ever compromise accuracy for the sake of speed,” says Misener. “The specimens we work with are irreplaceable so we can’t just repeat the test if the result comes out wrong. Also, many of the diagnoses we make have significant consequences, like diagnosing a child with cancer, so there is no room for error.”
Power adds that “We are consistently striving to meet these turnaround times so that the care teams know what to expect and can rely on having the answers they need in a timely fashion. Meeting these turnaround times can require a lot of coordination and teamwork but our team is consistently rising the challenge.”