Pat Hlavka

Mayo Clinic Labs @ Work

Thousands of people in hundreds of different roles work at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. Mayo Clinic Labs @ Work offers a glimpse behind the scenes into this busy reference laboratory, featuring staff from throughout the organization talking about what they do and why they do it.


What brought you to Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and how long have you worked here?

I've been here almost 13 years. Previously, I worked outside of Mayo as a safety professional in the manufacturing industry. When this opportunity became available at Mayo Clinic within DLMP (Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology), I interviewed and got the job. It's been fast and furious ever since.


What’s your job title, and what does your day-to-day work typically involve when there’s not a pandemic?

I'm the DLMP safety coordinator in Quality Management Services. There really isn't a typical day because one phone call or email can change it in a heartbeat. My days are variable, pandemic or no pandemic. I do lots of safety audits as part of the DLMP safety program. Every year, we do a safety audit of each of our clinical laboratories; there are about 100 labs. I run the DLMP Safety Committee, along with our physician chair. I also work with the various DLMP safety work groups that focus on various programs (such as safety awareness, ergonomics, emergency preparedness) and work on challenges as they come up. I also work with individuals in other departments. I answer a lot of questions.


How has your work changed since the pandemic began?

When the pandemic was first starting, Infection Prevention and Control and Emergency Management pulled together key staff from areas across the enterprise to look at how we would prepare. I was part of that group. We looked at how we would manage the emerging pathogen, and much of our time was spent figuring out how much of the planning that was already in place could work. Then our Healthcare Incident Command System kicked in. Those were daily meetings, working together with DLMP colleagues and other departments across Mayo Clinic.

I worked with Clinical Microbiology — particularly Dr. (Bobby) Pritt and Dr. (Audrey) Schuetz — to look at highly infectious respiratory specimens and how to safely handle them. We surveyed the labs to determine who was handling these specimens and then worked with them on appropriate handling. We got a lot of questions about how to handle the SARS-CoV-2 specimens, and it quickly became clear we had to have a documented process in place. Dr. Schuetz and I created the written procedure and the DLMP COVID-19 web page. As testing ramped up, we had to look at what we were doing with the reagents that were coming in, particularly the increase in quantities of flammable liquids, and we dealt with various supply chain impacts — surface disinfectants and PPE.

Overall, it's been answering lots of questions, and putting out lots of communication. There wasn’t much information on SARS-CoV-2 at the beginning, and we had to develop safety processes and communications. It's calmer now, and the focus has changed. But whatever comes our way, we just deal with it.  


What was the most challenging part of your job in 2020?

It was trying to find the time to focus on the things where my attention was really needed. There was a lot coming at us, and so much communication needed. For example, when the masking mandate started in April, there were many, many questions. We had mask conservation going on, too, so I had to work through that with people. Again, lots of questions. With everything happening, we've had to work through it all to get the information out to people who really needed it. That has been an ongoing challenge.


What is something inspiring that you have seen during this time?

It's been so inspiring to see how nimble everyone has been. People just get things done. They understand the impact. They really want to do what is right. They've been resilient, working so many hours with a lot of information coming at them. There are many new procedures now — new ways of processing and handling. Test development has been rapid. Everything is fast-paced. I can't thank the staff enough for all they've done. It's amazing.


What do you enjoy most about working for Mayo Clinic Laboratories?

My favorite part is working with the people in the labs and supporting the labs. I really enjoy that personal interface. I've always looked at safety as a field of helping people — helping them be aware of why certain things are required and how to do them safely. When they have questions or concerns, I enjoy finding new ways to get to a solution. There can be different ways of approaching some of these challenges, and I'm always interested in hearing what people have for ideas. And this work is never, ever dull. When people start working with me for the first time, I say: "Put on your seatbelt. It's going to be fast."

More from Mayo Clinic Labs @ Work


Tracy Will

Tracy Will is a senior marketing specialist at Mayo Clinic Laboratories where she covers innovation, specialty testing, and advances in laboratory medicine. Tracy has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2016.