Laboratory professionals recognized for contributions to overall healthcare

  • Published
  • By Valerie Mullett
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Walk through the main hall of the Malmstrom Clinic and numerous alcoves offering a variety of medical services greet you. The laboratory is one of those alcoves and to the casual passer-by, it appears to be a mere waiting area for patients who need to get blood drawn.

That is one of the main services offered at the lab, but behind the closed doors lays a world of scientific wonder and a highly trained staff who mans it.

In a typical month, the lab staff tests 1,700 specimens and sends out another 2,300 to be tested by referral network or reference labs.

"Our most common tests are chemistries, hematology and urine analysis," said Geoff Fallon, floor supervisor and Air Force retiree. "The things we typically send out to our referral labs are genetics related or those tests that are not cost effective to conduct here."

Mr. Fallon has worked in the Malmstrom clinic lab for more than 16 years, eight while on active-duty and eight since he retired in 2001.

"There isn't anything we are required to do to support the clinic physicians that we can't do in this lab," Mr. Fallon said.

Three non-commissioned officers and one Airman, as well as the chief of laboratory services, supplement Mr. Fallon with the day-to-day operations of the lab.

Senior Airman Tambara Hamilton is the youngest member of the team. The medical laboratory technician hails from Las Vegas, Nev., and hopes to extend her career beyond the boundaries of drawing blood one day.

"The most rewarding part of this job is the kind of knowledge I gain," she said. "I want to work in research and this gives me that foundation."

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Shields has been a medical laboratory technician for seven years, two-and-a-half of them here at Malmstrom. His fondest Air Force memory is assisting at the Air Force Academy to do mass in-processing of the new class of cadets every year. The most rewarding aspect of the job, for him, is more intense.

"I have reported and called doctors with critical test results that have resulted in emergency life-saving surgery," the father of two said. "The opportunity to directly impact patient's lives is what I find most rewarding."

Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Sykes, the assistant non-commissioned officer in charge of laboratory services, feels similarly about her role in the Malmstrom clinic lab. The 16-year Air Force veteran said she appreciates her patients.

"I am proud of the healthcare services delivered to my patients. I appreciate them," Sergeant Sykes said. "Without my patients, I would not have a job so it is important to me to provide them an outstanding standard of care."

Besides handling the healthcare needs of the patient, all of the laboratory staff is trained to operate the Joint Biological Agent Identification System, or JBAIDS, which is located in a separate building from the clinic.

The primary purpose of the JBAIDS is for installation protection, according to Tech. Sgt. Nicanor Barboza, Diagnostics and Therapeutics Flight non-commissioned officer in charge. The laboratory has a technician on-call 365 days a year to run the JBAIDS, he said.

Except in emergency situations or when asked to participate in local operational readiness exercises, the JBAIDS only gets used a few times a year.

"We get tested by AFIP, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, at least twice a year," Sergeant Barboza said.

He explained the process of the testing.

"A sample is collected by the bioenvironmental engineers and dropped off with a chain of custody at building 2041. A portion of that sample is processed and the DNA is extracted. A miniscule amount of the extracted DNA is then added to a classified master mix," the 11 year Air Force veteran explained. "The finished product is put on a deployable platform and analyzed. The entire process takes four-to six hours to complete."

Sergeant Barboza said the lab is very fortunate that all of the staff members here are trained to use the JBAIDS.

"Training is conducted at Brooks City-Base, Texas, by the Army Medical Department Center and School. It is a joint-service training area for Army, Navy and Air Force personnel and takes about two weeks to become certified," Sergeant Barboza said. "But it takes countless hours of practice to become proficient."

The results of items tested in the JBAIDS are presumptive only, according the Sergeant Sykes.

"Confirmatory testing has to be performed in the state public health lab where testing is more intense," Sergeant Sykes said. "We only test a very small amount of a sample."

"I am fortunate to have a great team with a lot of laboratory experience providing quality, professional assistance to the physicians who care for our community at Malmstrom," said Maj. Marybeth Luna, Chief of Laboratory Services. "They are an integral part of the overall healthcare team here and being able to help them grow professionally is very rewarding to me."
While that little waiting area with the laboratory sign pointing the way to the blood collection room is what is visible to the naked eye, a much more complex world of scientific testing is really taking place.

April 19 to 25 is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. Since the development of this career group in the 1920's the clinical laboratory science professional has played an increasingly vital role in the diagnosis and prevention of disease. Today, the clinical laboratorian is a key member of a health care team. Thank your laboratory technician today for their dedication to your healthcare needs.