My first clinical rotation was in the hematology department. On day one, we hit the ground running--and I was immediately overwhelmed!
I had not ever seemed to master the perfect blood smear; I knew nothing about running the equipment, loading the cartridges, doing the QC, and a lot of other things. Lest you lose sleep over these issues, never fear! Advice is here. Let's start with some general information to get you started.
Lesson No. 1: Listen And Record
Carry a small note pad in your uniform, and politely (albeit feverishly) write down what your instructor is saying. Many instructors have no added incentive for teaching you anything. That means that they would prefer to only tell you things one time. Unless you can precisely remember everything you hear, write it down.
Because I had my trusty note pad in my pocket, I wrote down everything I could. On the second day, when the instructor told me to do QC, I had the instructions written down so that I could actually do what they asked, without asking again.
I also was able to go over my notes each evening and review each day's information. This helped solidify in my mind what I had worked on that day, and better prepared me for the next day. It also helped me look like less of an idiot to my instructor. Always a good thing!
Lesson No. 2: When The Going Gets Tough, Get Out of the Way
Body fluid cell counts seem to come at the worst possible times. I guess it's some sort of Medical Murphy's Law. At any rate, if your instructor seems to be getting a little "bogged down" or seems somewhat stressed, give them some breathing room.
Always remember, in addition to showing you the ropes, they actually have work to do. Sometimes doing both at once is too much to ask. In my experience, this would be a good time to review your notes, and look generally pensive and busy in another location (within sight).
Later on, you will be more of an expert in reading your coworkers moods and can take appropriate action. Until then, it's a good idea to practice being sensitive to what is occurring around you.
Lesson No. 3: Develop A Thick Skin
As an "older" student I thought I had a thick skin. It did not take long to realize a few extra layers would serve me well. You may have heard the saying that the lab industry "eats their young." Some days that feels like an accurate statement.
Don't get me wrong. The folks I have had the honor of working with during clinical are awesome! However, in my experience, many people that work in the laboratory are very intelligent, very direct people. Sometimes that direct communication feels personal. It usually isn't. Make a mental note of what is being said. If it can enhance your performance, use it to your advantage.
Lesson No. 4: Show Your Appreciation
As I look back on my clinical experience, I am amazed at all I have learned. A lot has changed since my first day in the lab. I can honestly say that each day has been a challenge, with great rewards.
While I have certainly grown "technically," I would like to think I have also grown as a person. This is due largely to the assistance of many laboratory professionals (educators and techs) who have dedicated their time and energy toward helping me have a successful learning experience.
In short, everyone loves to be appreciated. Be sure to take the time to thank your clinical instructors for their role in helping you learn more about the lab environment. It may be the only thanks they hear for taking on the added responsibility of teaching you.
Additionally, expressing your appreciation may go a long way toward convincing them they want to work with you long term.
These are just a few general suggestions to prepare you for the clinical experience. Getting through lab rotations can be tough, but you can do it. Just take one day at a time, and before you know it, it'll be time to graduate and start your new career as a full-fledged lab tech.
I would like to express my appreciation to all of those that have helped contribute to my learning experience. I have been blessed with good teachers, and an excellent clinical site. I especially would like to thank my microbiology teacher, Barb Harrison, for making learning about microbiology an enjoyable process, and for preparing us so well for working in the lab.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to the staff of the Pardee Hospital Lab in Hendersonville, NC, for their patience in teaching me, for sharing their space with me, and imparting their wealth of laboratory knowledge to me. Thank you!
Diane Hendrickson is a clinical lab student in Asheville, NC. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications, with a background in marketing/communications and writing.