Lab tech in flowered shirt
Diana Jalbert has been working as a Lab Technician on the COVID unit at Toronto General Hospital for the past year. She says that being personable and positive can make a big difference when performing blood draws on patients. (Photo: UHN)

Diana Jalbert's alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m. She makes a hot cup of tea and prepares herself for another morning on the Toronto General Hospital COVID unit. For the past year she's been performing blood draws for COVID-positive patients and potential cases.

"As a team, we do vital work to ensure the right specimens are collected and preserved until reaching the lab," says Diana, a lab technician at UHN.

Diana admits that being on the COVID unit can be scary. She's been tested three times for the virus due to outbreaks and knows of one technician who has been swabbed 17 times. She is one of 80 specimen management technicians in the Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) who perform phlebotomy services to the in-patient and out-patient areas at UHN.

"Sometimes patients ask specifically for us – and that's rewarding," Diana says. "So you do build friendships with patients.

"Every day is different and that's what I love about it."

Specimen management technicians are one of several lab professionals across the LMP who are being recognized as part of National Medical Laboratory Week, which runs April 11 to 19 in Canada. Celebrated each April, it's an opportunity to recognize medical laboratory professionals such as Diana.

The LMP has more than 550 lab professionals in diverse disciplines including pathology, biochemistry, laboratory hematology, genetics, HLA, microbiology, and transfusion medicine. All work meticulously, and often behind the scenes, to provide essential diagnostic information to patients and clinicians.

They perform critical tasks needed to ensure fast and accurate diagnoses, treatment, and long-term monitoring of patients. And, the impact of LMP's work often extends beyond the walls of UHN – supporting the broader public and influencing the future of care.

Group shot of lab technicians
UHN has more than 80 specimen management technicians. Their friendly bedside manner and precise work is vital to providing life-saving care at UHN. Pictured here (L to R): Leo Davis, Diana Jalbert, Haydee Camargo, Janice Tong, and Precious Watiwat. (Photo: UHN)

In the first 13 months of the pandemic, the shared Microbiology Lab of Sinai Health and UHN tested more than 1.5 million COVID swabs – and that's just a small piece of the 25 million tests performed each year.

Last month, Sault Area Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. reached out to LMP for help in addressing an overwhelming backlog of surgical specimens.

"Our pathologists' assistants stepped up to provide support to a partner site in need when we were dealing with our own backlog," says Rosetta Belcastro, Senior Manager, Pathology Operations and Administrative Services. "This was primarily accomplished by working extra shifts on the weekends.

"There was over 50 hours of overtime accumulated across the team and it wasn't mandatory."

The LMP team continues to go above and beyond despite the ongoing challenges caused by COVID-19. At the end of April, LMP will be undergoing their assessment by Accreditation Canada Diagnostics.

"While the pandemic has caused many institutions to put a hold on accreditation processes, we've made the decision to proceed with it," says Christine Bruce, Senior Director, LMP. "This is just one way we demonstrate our commitment to exemplary patient care and quality assurance."

Providing exceptional patient care is always top of mind for the staff working in Canada's largest diagnostic lab.

Between the COVID scares, difficult patients, additional personal protective equipment and overtime hours, Diana continues to wake up every morning, enjoy her cup of tea and come into work with radiating positivity that no mask can hide.

"One patient on the COVID floor told me that I was the only bright spot in his day," Diana says, fighting back tears. "I really just chatted with him like nothing was wrong with him.

"Sometimes it's the simple, meaningful conversations that go a long way."

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