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Published on July 26, 2018

working in laboratory

The Unseen Side of Patient Care: Laboratory Services

When patients go to hospitals or clinics, they typically meet the concerned faces and helpful hands of physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, volunteers and schedulers.

Another team works behind the scenes to deliver compassionate, accurate treatment. They rarely ever meet the patient face to face, but care just the same.

From checking cholesterol levels to assisting in the diagnosing of cancer, laboratory professionals are needed in all corners of health care.

“Hospital laboratories play a critical role in getting the results back to physicians so they can start treating the patient in the most effective way possible,” said Mike Black, MBA, MT(ASCP), DLM, Assistant Vice President and Laboratory Service Line Administrator.

It’s not just test tubes, slides and microscopes like you see in Hollywood. “It’s a fast, tech-driven industry,” explained Black. “Analytical computers and a fully automated line keep our productivity on the cutting edge.”

Vast Amounts of Testing

The Avera McKennan Laboratory is the largest laboratory in the Avera system. Professionals in the Avera McKennan lab complete nearly 2 million billable tests annually, averaging about 5,500 daily results.

However, regional locations in Aberdeen, Mitchell, Pierre, Yankton and Marshall offer nearly as many tests and follow the same methodology. “Avera regional laboratories have standardized policies and procedures, testing methodologies, instruments and reagents to ensure that a patient located in Pierre has the same results if he or she is transferred to Sioux Falls,” said Black.

All Avera laboratories operate around the clock. For example, if a victim of an accident needs blood, the lab will be called for blood typing and screening. And even though some specialized lab services aren’t available at all hours, labs buzz with activity — studying biopsies, stools, urine, fungus, bacteria, viruses — to serve patients in every discipline.

Some tests confirm or deny the presence of cancer in biopsies; others recommend the most effective immunosuppressant for transplant patients. Examined stem cells spur recommendations in treating multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma. Some results bring the incredible news of a match between an organ donor and a patient in need of a kidney, pancreas or liver.

A Growing Profession

There’s a high demand for laboratory professionals. According to, about 4,500 more lab professionals are needed to fulfill health care lab job postings. Lab professionals use strong skills in math, science, computer and critical thinking to perform the tasks at hand.

Andrea Tobin will be graduating as a medical lab scientist in June. She encourages high school students and undergraduates looking for a secure career to job shadow in a laboratory or dabble in science extracurricular activities.

“You play a big part in patient care,” said Tobin. “We’re there for our patients — even though we don’t work with patients directly.”

It’s detail-oriented work, determining the normal from the abnormal, which attracted Tobin to her chosen career. “You experience job satisfaction as you become an expert in your field.”

The average person doesn’t see this work, as they’re not on the front lines of patient care. “I assure you, we appreciate all patients who trust our lab experts with their immediate health concerns,” said Black. “We are proud of our work and what it can do to change lives.”

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