Lab work vital to maintaining health

 Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
 Tri-County Medical Center lab supervisor Sally Weimer spends her day surrounded by equipment vital to the diagnosis of health conditions of patients under the care of the six physician practice in Canal Winchester. Weimer is part of a nationwide COLA campaign calling attention to the laboratorian profession.

From the heartland to the nation, laboratory technician Sally Weimer is promoting her occupation through a campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the laboratorian profession.

Weimer, who works at Tri-County Family Medicine in Canal Winchester, is featured in the "Saving Lives One Test at a Time" crusade, which urges health care professionals and consumers to learn more about laboratory technicians, a career field suffering a lack in available numbers, much like the nursing profession.

Lab workers function primarily behind the scenes and consumers typically are not as aware of the profession and the fact that 70 percent of all medical decisions are based on tests laboratorians perform. The campaign is sponsored by COLA, a clinical laboratory accreditation organization, and designed to attract more people to the profession and avert a growing national shortage.

Into the lab

Weimer’s initial dreams of a career in nursing were cut short due to a bout of home sickness after enrolling in nursing school. When Weimer returned home, her mother offered an alternative means of working as a health professional and suggested a two-year local college program leading to a medical technologist career.

"In those days, you lived at the facility, received meals, uniforms, and $3 per day for drawing blood and staying until 5 p.m.," recalled Weimer, who spent one year on an internship rotating through all of the lab departments. "Students rotated weekends to assist the technologist with testing and phlebotomy, for which we received a stipend of $25."

After receiving a certificate as a medical technologist, Weimer worked in hematology, taught students, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Duquesne University. During her tenure at the West Virginia University Hospital before moving to Ohio with her family six years later, she was asked to develop a special hematology research section.

At the former St. Anthony’s Hospital in Columbus, Weimer became the hematology supervisor and conducted studies on a Lupus anticoagulant. She later earned certification as a hematology specialist. In 1993, while working at Doctor’s Hospital North, the mother of three daughters decided she missed working as a supervisor and accepted a position as a part-time technical supervisor and medical technology generalist at Tri-County.

Within two weeks of her arrival, Weimer was informed the Canal Winchester medical center was scheduled for an accreditation visit by COLA. The supervisor said she quickly threw herself into updating manuals and procedures needed in the accreditation process Her day is spent in the lab, surrounded by manuals and procedures she has written and/or maintains, along with computers, special equipment, beakers, tubes, Petri dishes, chemicals, and a microscope.

Saving lives

"My job is somewhat like the CSI show on television, only I work with live people," kidded Weimer. "You have to be a good problem solver. Medical technicians are vital to health care, but work so far behind the scenes that people don’t know what we do. As a supervisor at St. Anthony’s, I would draw blood and had a ton of patient contact. Nowadays, most people only have contact with the lab when they draw blood, but they don’t know what happens to the blood after it’s drawn.

"However, the majority of a diagnosis is based on what the lab results are and technicians are the ones that alert the doctor. We’re the ones doing the glucose test for diabetes and the thyroid testing and what has kept me in this field for so long are the patients; it’s knowing my work is saving peoples’ lives. Lots of times, it directly saves their lives because you’re the first one to find something."

She has worked full-time at Tri-County since 2000, and is a staff of one, performing more than 100,000 annual tests in support of the six-physician practice. In addition to the COLA accreditation every two years, Weimer is also responsible for conducting proficiency evaluations three times a year on tests performed at the medical center, in order to assure accuracy.

Vital work

"Laboratorians work diligently behind the scenes to provide doctors and other health care providers with critical information they need to diagnose and treat their patients safely and expediently," said Douglas Beigel, COLA CEO. "With laboratory tests influencing approximately 70 percent of medical decisions, these professionals are often unseen by patients and even their medical colleagues, and yet deserve to be recognized for the enormous contribution they make to the delivery of safe, efficient, and effective patient care. Through this campaign, we hope to honor the people who perform this vital work, by assuring each test, each day, is seen as saving one life at a time."

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