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Stepwise Success

Teachable Moments

Published October 14, 2009 6:25 AM by Scott Warner

Much was made of the President's "beer summit" last July, a meeting between a black professor and the white policeman who arrested him, something the Wall Street Journal labeled a "teachable moment." Aside from wondering what kind of beer goes best with conflict resolution, I'd never heard the term.

A teachable moment is that rare and special event in the classroom when a teacher has the ideal opportunity to offer insight and students are most receptive. Teachers are aware of and seize these opportunities. Holidays and important current events are two obvious examples.

The laboratory, too, has teachable moments. The difference is that a professional is both a student and a teacher. Recent examples I've encountered:

  • A gram stain on a blood culture, positive in one of four bottles, showed small gram positive coccobacilli, but these organisms weren't viable when subcultured. According to the physician, the patient had been given antibiotics for bronchitis and presented in a week with status asthmaticus. Our reference lab consultant suggested a weakened Arcanobacterium.
  • A nurse asked me the other day, "Is our C. diff kit not accurate? We are repeating many tests." Currently, we perform a toxin assay not considered to be a good test for cure. The test is run on multiple samples to increase sensitivity, but a positive test may not specifically indicate active infection. I explained that we are changing our algorithm to test for antigen first.

These events, while generating interest and enthusiasm, aren't just academic exercises. They are chances to improve patient care by increasing knowledge and tweaking or changing what we are doing. Like a teacher in a classroom, we need to watch for and seize these events.

Even creating collection kits with highlighted instructions when a question such as How do we collect a specimen for swine flu? is asked – can be a teachable moment. As professionals, we support and inform. Other professionals – doctors, nurses, ancillary departments – reciprocate. It's a "win-win." The beer will wait until we get home.

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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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