Sarah Hof is a medical laboratory scientist living in Kennewick, WA. Through the analysis of blood samples, she provides information that allows doctors to diagnose patients.
What do you do?
When the doctor orders testing of a patient's blood, urine, stool or any other sample to help diagnose a patient, I and other people in the clinical lab look at those samples. These provide 70% of the information doctors need to make a diagnosis, as well as steer treatment of the patient.
Why is your work important?
Our work directly impacts patient diagnosis and treatment in the medical field. Blood and body fluids can tell us SO much. For example, you can use a blood test to tell if someone is having a heart attack (look for elevated levels of Troponin or BNP), or if they are fighting an infection (elevated white blood cells) and what type of infection (viral, bacterial). These are just 2 examples of all the different types of things we can learn about a patient’s condition to help the doctor treat the patient.
What's the coolest thing you've learned about?
Blood can tell us about a patient's health status. It can also tell us what types of blood we can give that patient if they ever need it. Blood has specific types (ABO), and on those blood cells there are different molecules that are specific to that blood type. Your body is used to that specific type, so if you need blood and are given a different type, your body freaks out and starts destroying the donor blood. This is why blood types are so important. When we give blood to a patient, we are trying to help them, and if they are given the wrong type, it could end up killing them.
What do you love about STEM?
Fact based science affects us everyday, from using an alarm clock to wake up in the morning, to brushing your teeth to prevent cavities, to using a computer and driving your car. Science and technology are in everything we do!
What do you wish people knew about your field?
Just like there is a range of different jobs on the patient side of health care that requires a range of different levels of schooling, the same is true in the clinical lab. Clinical Lab assistants require a training program: Medical Lab technicians (MLS) require a 2 year degree + the certification program and Medical Lab Scientists require a 4 year degree + a certification program, including the certification exam. The MLS program can either be part of your 4 year degree, or be in addition to it.
The program I am in is in addition to my BS degree. They last between 1 and 2 years, and include both classroom learning and interning in a clinical lab setting. At the end of your program you would take the Board of Certification (BOC) exam, and if you pass, you would be certified to work in the clinical lab. In addition, once you have your certification, you need to take 30 continuing education credits every 3 years to keep that certification.
Thanks for your work in the healthcare field! If you’d like to nominate a STEM friend (or yourself), fill out the AweSTEM people form. You’ll also receive jewelry from Circuit Breaker Labs.