With newfangled technology replacing many manual tasks in the lab, medical technologists need to develop skills that will make them indispensable in the computer age. Such skills must go well beyond education and training to distinguish the leaders from the followers and ultimately make labs more efficient, more effective and more accurate.
What are these coveted skills? Julie Rufus, manager of the pathology lab at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago,
spells them out for her employees -- literally. The traits correspond to the letters in the word
"Indispensable medical technologists take initiative," Rufus says. "They are not negative, but they are
dependable. They make inquiries, stay calm, problem-solve, exert extra effort, never go around automated systems and set
attainable objectives. My indispensable employees produce accurate results, bring people together, learn new skills and
effectively communicate with the rest of the medical staff."
These traits can serve as a useful guide for any med/lab worker writing a resume or preparing for an interview.
Here's a closer look at each one, by the letter:
Experts agree that the best med/lab workers take it upon themselves to help coworkers, learn new skills and support the
staff in every possible way.
Star med/lab workers remain positive, even when instruments go down and the work piles up.
First-rate med/lab workers are the ones lab managers can depend on to complete their assigned tasks on or before deadline.
"Our star employees are not satisfied until they know why an instrument went offline," Rufus explains.
"They want to have the knowledge to prevent the downtime next time."
One of the most critical characteristics for today's busy med/lab worker is the ability to handle pressure without
The best and brightest will look for solutions to everyday problems.
Exerts Extra Effort
As an extension of problem-solving, indispensable med/lab workers will put forth the extra effort needed to find solutions
to routine problems.
Never Goes Around Automated Systems
Automated systems exist to reduce human error and make the lab more efficient. Indispensable employees will never go
around these systems, because leveraging new technologies is part of advancing the industry.
Sets Attainable Objectives
Effective med/lab techs will know what can be achieved and will set about to pursue those goals aggressively.
"Being detail-oriented is extremely important, because even though we use high tech equipment, we still need a
precise attitude in terms of quality control," says Barbara Brown, past president of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. "Indispensable medical technologists
pay attention to the minute details of testing, and have good eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity."
Keith Nelson, administrator of the pathology department at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, agrees that an eye for
detail is perhaps the most critical skill.
"Attention to detail and proper documentation are indispensable skills in the lab," Nelson says. "In
today's litigious society, it is very important that we document our findings, especially when they directly impact patient
safety and also to provide proper diagnostic information to the clinicians."
Brings People Together
Indispensable lab employees don't just stare into their microscopes all day. They bring people together to share ideas
that can lead to positive changes in the lab.
Learns New Skills
Rufus says the best med/lab workers -- while remaining competent at their current tasks -- are lifelong learners. This
commitment is especially important, because Rufus says she has seen employees become bored with their careers and leave the
profession or move into another area of healthcare.
Often overlooked, this is a make-or-break skill in the lab. "The best of the best know how to communicate with peers,
supervisors and physicians," Rufus says. "When an irate doctor is waiting on a lab result, you have to be able to
clearly explain what the delay is and reassure them. Communication is essential."