“We are neglected and essential. In UM’s COVID testing lab


ANN ARBOR – Each year, the United States celebrates Medical Laboratory Professionals Week during the last week of April to recognize the critical role laboratory workers play in keeping health care systems functioning.

More than ever, lab technicians across the country – and the world – are working tirelessly to deliver results for constant COVID testing.

Cheryl Kubisiak, medical technologist in Michigan Medicine’s Department of Microbiology, said COVID had completely transformed their daily routine.

Before the pandemic, she and her colleagues were performing viral and bacterial tests for the hospital. Already no small feat, she said nothing could have prepared them for the sudden surge in demand for COVID tests.

“We have increased our test volume by about 70%,” said Kubisiak, whose lab has switched to a 24-hour program to accommodate time-sensitive tests. “It’s just demanding. You go from morning till night and you are just dead when you go.

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She said many people in her ward started physical therapy at UM because processing the tests requires fine, repetitive movements for hours at a time.

A lab technician performs tests at Michigan Medicine’s microbiology lab. (Camren Clouthier | Michigan Photography)

“Much of what we receive requires some handling before being tested,” said Kubisiak, who has suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome for years. “There were times when there were 1,000 little test tubes you could unscrew and screw back every day. It’s quite a process.

“Even the youngest, their hands are numb. As much pipetting as we do, several people complain of the same neck and shoulder problems.

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She estimates that her lab processes 600 to 1,000 COVID tests per day and that three technologists typically cover a shift.

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In a test lab, timing is everything. Whether it’s timing moves with your partner to improve workflow, growing bacteria, or answering questions from doctors and nurses, she said technologists are constantly in a race against time. .

A lab technician performs tests at Michigan Medicine’s microbiology lab. (Camren Clouthier | Michigan Photography)

“Tissues need to be ground and plated on racks, all liquid nasal swabs and especially COVID need a significant amount of vortex to release cells and DNA into racks,” she explained. “Laboratory technicians and medical technicians are constantly answering questions from doctors and nurses about the type of sample, how much, how to collect, transport, appropriate collection devices, and so on. “

Kubisiak said she and her colleagues wanted the luxury of visiting Michigan Medicine’s new “charging rooms” aimed at preventing burnout for medical workers.

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Running non-stop testing for one of the state’s largest healthcare systems sometimes requires technicians to step in on the next shift, she said.

“Many of our tasks cannot be left for tomorrow,” she said. “We’re not leaving until they’re done.”

While they know their work is essential to patient care, Kubisiak said lab workers often feel invisible.

“No one ever sees us,” she said. “We are not the ones who draw your blood. Everyone knows who your nurse is or who the doctor is, but very few know the group of people in between who provide really valuable information. “

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