David Barta

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 is your job title and how long have you been at Mayo Clinic?

I’ve been with the Office of Decedent Affairs (ODA) as an ODA specialist for a year and a half. I was in the Division of Cytology before that, so I’ve been at Mayo Clinic for two and a half years now.


What drew you to join the Office of Decedent Affairs?

I received a Bachelor of Science degree in mortuary science, and I had worked in the industry for some time. When my son was born, though, it became clear to me the hours involved in that type of work were going to make work/life balance difficult, so I switched to an 8-to-5 job. During the time away, I found that I missed working in the field. My children are older now, so when this opportunity came up, I felt like I could once again use my education and the skills that I developed as a funeral director, with the additional benefit of continuing to work for Mayo Clinic.


What does your day-to-day work involve?

We’re a 24/7 office, with two staff members always present. The ODA specialist’s primary focus is to serve as a point of contact for family members who have had a loved one die or who are near death at the hospital. We answer any questions they may have and make them aware of the process that happens when death occurs. This includes helping to facilitate transport, if necessary, of a loved one who will be buried in another state in the U.S. or internationally. The process can be complicated, and we’re able to assist with the logistics. The ODA also coordinates and schedules the autopsies at Mayo Clinic for both hospital inpatients, as well as outpatients whose families would like an autopsy performed at Mayo Clinic.


How did COVID-19 affect your job?

The biggest impact to our process was that for the first few months of the pandemic, we didn’t meet with families face-to-face, which was a challenge. We would work with the patient care staff on the units to get contact information for the family, and we could reach out to them after they left the hospital. We would go over all of our usual information, but it would have to be done over the phone. Even after those first few months, the limited visitor policy at the hospitals was still challenging because the few family members who were there would often leave before we could get to the unit to meet with them. We were still doing most of our conversations over the phone. With the kinds of conversations we have, it’s much easier to discuss things in person. It’s such a sensitive and difficult time, and such a personal conversation, that the inability to meet face-to-face impacted our ability to serve them to our greatest capacity.

We did prepare for our caseload to go up, based on what could have happened with the pandemic. We did see an increase, but thankfully, it never got to the point that we thought it might. We were able to handle it and provide the same level of service to all our families that we always do.


Is there anything about your work that people might find surprising or unexpected?

What I find when I meet with families is that they are surprised we offer this kind of service at all. Very few people realize Mayo Clinic has dedicated resources to a group who specializes in focusing on the needs of families and loved ones at the time of a death. In most hospitals, it’s a nurse or a doctor who handles this. But Mayo provides for them a group that knows about and is focused on this type of care. We answer their questions and provide direction when many of these families are in shock and don’t know what to do. They’re usually still trying to process what happened. We’re able to come in and help them understand what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. Sometimes they can’t even think of questions for us because they are so stunned with grief. That we offer experts who can care for them in that time is surprising to them, but it’s also often a big relief and a weight off their shoulders — especially if they haven’t been through the death of a loved one before.


What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

For me, it really is the support I provide for the families. The reason I went into this field in the first place was my interest in helping people through a difficult time in their lives. When I saw Mayo Clinic had this position open, I thought, “This is perfect for me.” Providing assistance and that interpersonal interaction is why I’m here. When I go home every day, I’m grateful that I’m able to help others. I had never imagined feeling this way or getting so much fulfillment from a job. It’s really not just a job for me. Truly, it’s a joy for me to go to work and serve our families.

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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.