Avera Lab Coordinator Explains Why She Loves Her Work
All the way down to the DNA.
That’s the capacity of testing expertise Erin Fernholz can use every day in her work at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center’s main laboratory. The space can be a maze of microscopes and technical equipment, and it operates 24/7 helping Avera patients in five states.
As a Molecular Diagnostics Coordinator, Fernholz trains staff, tests equipment, establishes new procedures – yet she also interacts with patients who have cancer. Her work is a whirlwind of technology, teamwork and talent. At the lab’s roots: expert care for patients, no matter what they face. That includes cancer, where Fernholz is especially connected role to patients.
Fernholz began her Avera career seven years ago, and in her current position for almost five years. She explained the rewards that come with her work and what it’s like.
What Happens on Your Typical Day?
It’s rare that any two days in our lab are “normal” – we have a wide range of duties. Our team has four members, but the lab in full has more than 100 professionals. My focus in the molecular lab is testing for viruses at the DNA level.
I begin by starting lab instruments and performing any necessary maintenance. I gather samples for testing, organize them, make sure none are missing and prepare them.
Testing includes many precise, detailed hands-on steps. There’s a high risk for contamination when working with viral DNA, so we do a lot of cleaning to avoid tainting a sample. We use many precautions and process checks to minimize risks. After the testing is completed and passes all quality checks, we put results in the patient’s medical record.
I’m also responsible for bringing on new tests, monitoring the current testing processes for quality and making process improvements as needed.
Why Did You Choose Avera?
I completed a six-month internship in the Avera McKennan laboratory while completing my degree. One thing became very clear to me – this place is full of opportunity. It was always my dream to work in a more specialized area of the laboratory, and I knew that here, I could do that.
Our team is full of mentors who encouraged me to push myself, work hard and accomplish my goals.
After six years here, another thing is clear – Avera truly does care. Working in health care during a pandemic presented many challenges, and lots of hard times. But knowing Avera keeps the best interest of employees and patients central in everything, offers comfort in an uncertain time.
Describe Avera’s Culture.
Our team is full of strong collaborators. We’re a small group, but we’ve built robust bonds working together. We know each other and complement each other, meshing our strengths. If I have a problem, I know I have support. It comes from leaders as well as my peers, and I see new members of our team and recognize myself a few years back – and help their journey in this profession, too.
What Are the Most Meaningful Moments in Your Work?
I get to go from “backstage” to help our transplant patient, especially those who need blood and marrow transplants. Working in the lab can sometimes feel “behind the scenes,” but when I get to meet patients, the true purpose of my job is clear. I love being able to be a small part in the patient’s journey.
Whether I complete a simple lab test or I’m preparing material for a patient’s transplant, I know what I do impacts the patient’s treatment and care. Cancer patients face fear, uncertainty – so to go to them, spell things out and reassure them – that’s a blessing.
This story is part of a series featuring Avera employees and how they’re moving health forward at Avera every day.