A Brief Timeline of My Life
I am getting so many questions about how the Chaetomium Queen came to be. I have some information on my About Me and FAQ pages, but I’m getting the impression that y’all want more so here is a blog post dedicated to exactly that. I never thought I’d be where I am right now, and my path wasn’t without bumps. I figure I’ll just go through this as a timeline; starting with the beginning and landing with the present. Now, this will just be a timeline, with brief stops at different points in my life. I may build on this at a later time. I’ve already started trying, but it’s soooo much writing and I don’t want you to be overwhelmed (which you probably will be by the end of this post). Starting easy, diving in along the way. I’ll include information about each job, such as laboratory type and position title, and general duties for those of you who are interested in career details.
Shortly after high school graduation, I score a random gig as a receptionist at a radiology clinic for women. Mammograms, Ultrasounds, Bone Density tests. I learned a lot. I liked helping patients, I liked being able to occasionally chaperone visits between our male radiologist and female patients. But, overall, boring. And the office was managed by two hideously evil sisters. Like the kind that ruin everything in Disney Movies. I wanted out. A courier who worked for a private pathology lab in the area mentioned her lab may be hiring. This courier stopped by our office when requested to pick up a specimen to bring to the pathology lab. Usually fine needle aspirates or cyst aspirates. Small core biopsies and fluid collections sampled using minimally invasive technique. She’d chat me up while I handed her ovary fluid…and I guess we bonded. When a position for another courier opened in her lab she let me know about it. Didn’t seem like a bad deal so I thought about it.
This is the game changer. I apply for the courier position at the private pathology lab and I get the job. Whaaaaaat? I’m a teenager. They have handed me the keys to a brand new Honda. I drive all over town stuffing body parts in my trunk. Soon, a position in the lab opened up and I tried that! I loved it! I got to play with and learn about the body parts I had been stuffing in my trunk. I helped with autopsies whenever I could. I soaked up as much as I could during my time here, but felt it was time to further my education. I decided at that time that I’d like to go to the University of Missouri and get started as Nursing/Biology double major.
Notes about the job: This was a private pathology lab. When I started, my position title was ‘Courier.’ I ended up working as a ‘laboratory assistant’ in histology and cytology. This involved organizing and sorting body parts/specimens, making sure things were labeled correctly, a lot of data entry, processing and coverslipping slides, speaking with physicians. Other people I worked with were Pathologists, Pathologist Assistants, Cytology Technologists/technicians, Histology Technologists/technicians, and medical transcriptionists. Positions like this are not for the squeamish (I had to throw fetuses in the trash) or those who are highly sensitive to chemicals. I eventually left this type of work partially because of the chemical exposure. I was very sensitive especially to Formalin and Xylene.
A Brief Interlude; 2003-2007
I’m going to pause here and insert some college stuff. During this time, I remained employed nearly full time. It was very, very difficult. I do not recommend. My studies suffered. And I was exhausted. I’d find out shortly after graduation that one reason I was so tired all the time was because I’d had undiagnosed Multiple Sclerosis for years…probably since I was as young as 18. Gotta love those curveballs! So, started as Nursing/Bio double major. Did not so much like Nursing…wasn’t for me (But we love nurses, right? Where the eff would we be without good nurses?). So I kept tearing down the bio path, it was rough. A LOT of chemistry….SO MUCH MATH. And all those voices haunting me from my past telling me “You’re not smart enough for this.” So, as a result, I changed majors/paths soooo many times. I ended up making up my own degree. This “scientist” had her fill of physics taught by professors who could barely speak English, and organic chemistry taught by a man who may have been a vampire. I had credits from all over the place. I went to see an advisor where we looked over all my coursework. 2 classes shy of BS in Biology, an almost minor in microbiology (one more class!), an almost minor in chemistry (again…just one more), an almost minor in Spanish (take a guess…), definitely a minor in psychology. More than, actually. I looked at her and said, “I want out. I’m done.” We came up with….tadaaaaaaa….INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES WITH CONCENTRATIONS IN HEALTH SCIENCES AND PSYCHOLOGY. Whew. That was not the best choice ever…maybe someday I’ll explain further.
Okay, back to the grit.
Job at private pathology lab in Columbia, MO. I started working evenings in histology, processing tiny body parts and pap smears and fluid specimens. I eventually got promoted to evening crew supervisor where I started helping with scheduling, training etc. I started some loose training as a histotech (almost cut off the tip of my finger!)…learned how to embed tissue specimens, cut in gross on small skin and colon biopsies, dictating reports, did some bone marrow specimens. They needed help in microbiology, and I was currently in love with my Clinical Microbiology course, so I decided to cross-train and work two departments. I LOOOOOVED microbiology. So much.
Notes about the job: My position titles here were ‘Histology Assistant’, ‘Microbiology Assistant’, and ‘Histology Evening Shift Supervisor’. My duties here included: sorting/organizing body parts, processing body fluids and pap smears, embedding tiny pieces of processed (preserved) tissue specimens into blocks of wax that would eventually get turned into slides for pathologist reading, and I coverslipped a lot of slides. In microbiology, I plated cultures, stained slides, and set things up for biochemical/identification/susceptibility (antibiotic) testing. Again, not for the squeamish (Did you know how many things you can stuff in your butt? Don’t do it. The things I have seen…). And the chemical exposure was high. There are ventilation hoods all over the place, but if you’re particularly sensitive to chemicals, they’ll still get to you.
Moved from private path lab to a university microbiology lab. More love. My supervisor here, Tom, and the ladies he worked with (they were all ladies….and the medical lab world is still dominated by women…we really need more dudes), really birthed me into the world of Microbiology. They taught me so much. And this is where I first fell in love with fungus. Tom really guided me here, and I loved it. As graduation grew nearer, I still didn’t know what to do. They kind of decided for me, and snatched me up. Summer of 2007 I started rotating all the micro benches (bacteriology, parasitology, mycology, mycobacteriology) full time, to prepare for my coming certification exam. In January 2009 I became board certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology as a Scientist/Technologist in the area of Microbiology.
Notes about this job: I started here as a Microbiology Laboratory Assistant, and worked my way towards Medical Technologist/Laboratory Scientist certified by the ASCP (Medical Technologist, Medical Laboratory Scientist, and Clinical Laboratory Scientist all = same) in the area of Microbiology. As an assistant, I received the specimens brought to the lab and processed them appropriately. This included necessary data entry and inoculation of culture media. I also helped set up biochemical/identification/susceptibility testing. I progressed to rotating progressively through all the benches, reading cultures and learning along the way. This is the job that prepared me for my exam.
I have now worked in two major facilities in the greater Seattle area as a Medical Technologist/Scientist. I’m a clinical microbiologist first, a clinical mycolgoist/mycobacteriologist second. I will admit, positions such as mine where I get to work an area of this specialty, are a bit rare.
Most people who work in this field have gone through a four year degree program (that is only recently becoming increasingly popular) in Medical Technology or Medical Laboratory Science or Clinical Laboratory science. That is what I recommend you do! If you are interested in this sort of work. If you do it like me (on the job trained, certified in one area only), you’ll really pigeon-hole yourself into a lab corner with not much room to expand. If you’re a generalist, and can branch into other areas….Blood Banking, Chemistry, Hematology…you can go farther. These all fall under the umbrella of Pathology, and there are even MORE lab areas to get into here….Histology, Cytology, Anatomic Pathology, Pathologists Assistant. So much more.
If you are interested in ANY of these positions, they all require certification by American Society for Clinical Pathology. The user interface for the website is a total cluster so I can’t link to exactly what I want to show you, but if you’re really interested in the information, you’ll learn how to navigate their ridiculous website. They have all the hoops you need to jump through to land one of these careers, even if you’re coming from a foreign country.
If you don’t do a four year degree designed for this field, you’ll need to get a bachelor’s degree in a related area and make sure you meet all of ASCPs educational/testing requirements. You will need to find a laboratory that’s willing to train you/provide your clinical rotations. And then you have to take the test that is area specific, so you’ll have to choose which department (Microbiology, Chemistry, Blood Banking, etc) you’d like to go for. You cannot be a generalist if you go this route. Unless…maybe you can find a lab that is willing to do each of your clinical rotations, and you pay for each certification individually. This would probably be very time consuming, expensive, and difficult to do.
I believe there may be opportunities for combined bachelors/masters degree in this area, though you’ll have to find those on your own! I don’t have information specific to that route.
What do I actually do all day?
I read cultures. All day. Sometimes, hundreds. Anything that comes out of or from your body can be cultured. From bodily fluids, to body parts, to foreign objects removed from the body. The majority of these cultures are negative, or not growing anything. When I find one that’s growing bacteria or fungus, I investigate further and determine whether or not potential pathogens are present, identify those pathogens (bacteria/fungi/mycobacteria), determine whether or not the patient needs antibiotics, and report all this information in the patient’s chart for physicians/nurses/medical assistants to read and then use to treat the patient if needed. I talk to physicians and nurses on the phone A LOT. I work very closely with the Infectious Disease doctors at our facility. It’s pretty complex, involves multitasking skills, and requires moving around quite a bit. Overall, it’s mostly fun. I was given the title of “Chaetomium Queen” by my coworkers here during lab week, inspired by my love of fungus. But sometimes the workload is really high. And most places don’t have a micro lab that is fully staffed 24/7 (evening/night shift run short-staffed and can’t complete as much work as day shift). There are many times where overtime is required to get the work done. When I started working in the field 10 years ago, the average age of someone in my position was 55. Well, guess what? They’re all retiring now! Many labs are facing staffing shortages and budget cuts. It’s no cake walk. Those newspaper articles titled “25 of the least stressful jobs ever” actually have my job on the list. I call BULLSH*T. Those articles are the biggest load of complete and utter crap! Don’t believe those. ANY job in health care has an extra element of stress. Because someone’s life depends on it, and that is at the back of your mind at all times.
So that is what I do all day.
Whew. Okay. I’ve definitely breached 2000 words here so, that’s it. Email me if you have any questions!