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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Words Have Power, Choose Them Wisely

Published March 6, 2008 10:45 AM by Glen McDaniel

A nurse calls from the oncology clinic wanting to know how long she would have to wait to get the results of a CBC in order to start the patient's chemotherapy. The lab assistant answering the phone stumbles and says something like "we are really short staffed today. We are working on it and will get out a soon as possible; I can't give you a time."

She does not tell the hematology technologist about the call. Ten minutes later, the nurse calls again, the tech realizes the smear is still in the stainer and says simply "It's on the machine and will be off in about 10 to 15 minutes." The nurse says sarcastically "You all need to get faster machines" and hangs up.

Fifteen minutes later, the physician himself calls and is really mad. He berates the laboratorian who answers the phone and asks if she realizes how important it is to get results back in a timely manner. He says he is especially interested in the platelet count and seeing if there are any blast cells.

This time the tech says, "I am sorry about the delay. The automated part of the CBC is ready and I can give you the platelet count, WBC and H&H right now. The smear has just been stained and I am about to take a look at it microscopically. It should take me about 5 minutes or so, but I will be happy to call you back if I see any blasts even before I do the entire differential. Would that help?"

Which conversation do you think is more useful and powerful? Not only did the tech provide valuable information to the physician, she used language indicating she was aware of the lab's role in patient care. The lab assistant was dismissive and vague. The first tech made the lab seem like a bystander, simply passing on automated results generated by instruments.

This is a very simple example of how laboratorians can either play into negative stereotypes or how subtle choice of words can present a more positive, progressive view of the laboratory's role in patient care.


Having a heavy load and each specimen is ordered as stat and with staff shortage, with more than 60% specimen or more are needed to pay immediate attention may quite often frustrating to the concerned nurses and the doctors. This seems to be a need of delivery system improvement. There are several facotors which may help in faster pace if improved such as:

1- Sufficient stafff

2- Better LIS

3- prioritization of specimen.

4- Proper communications

5- Instruments readiness and back ups.

Numerous other factors can be looked at to make a faster delivery.

Syed Naqvi, chem/hema - medical technologist, hospital April 4, 2008 9:46 PM
east orange NJ


Proper phone etiquette is a skill that we all must master as medical professionals.  Alot times this skill can cause unfortunate situations to smooth over easy like the last conversation between the physican and the tech in your scenario.  Thank for bringing this matter to our attention.  I've always enjoyed reading your articles in Advance Magazines and now the blogs.  Keep blessing us with words.

Brian, M.T. Generalist March 19, 2008 10:24 PM

Bravo, Mr. McDaniel.  The art of answering questions is a skill that can take years to hone.  When I am orienting new employees it's a subject that I always address.

When faced with a question to which one does not know the answer there are a few tricks that will keep the caller satisfied, at least for the short term, and give them a favorable image of laboratorians as helpful and resourceful.

Never say "I don't know" which is a definite turnoff.  Instead, sound confident and reassuring and say "I will find that out for you"; the called will figure out that you don’t know without having to hear those awful words.

Ask for a name and phone number and let the caller know that you will call back within a certain amount of time (a few minutes for emergencies, longer for general information).  Follow through on your promise.

I rarely put someone on hold when trying to find an answer to a question.  Too many distractions are possible, and the caller, who felt encouraged by my helpfulness at first, becomes frustrated by the wait.

Thanks for the food for thought. I'm going to print a copy to give to the MLT student who will be starting a clinical rotation with us shortly.

Nancy , Heme/Blood Bank - MT March 11, 2008 7:06 PM
Hanover PA

Mr McDaniel

Nice approach on this article.  I have read some of your work in Advance for several years.  I've never had much time to help or comment.  I am in between contracts right now.  

Keep up the good work.  If you bump into that Mr Patton his Advance Feb 28  "A Seller's Market"  was on the money.  

William Quilhot, All - MLT/RN, Travel March 6, 2008 11:54 AM

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