Brian Netzel

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's your job title, and how long have you been in your current role?

I'm a senior developer in the Biochemical Genetics Lab in Mayo's Division of Laboratory Genetics and Genomics. I've been doing this work for 15 years.


What does your typical day-to-day work involve?

I perform development, validation, and implementation of assays, predominantly in mass spectrometry. Biochemical genetics exists to understand inborn errors of metabolism. We look at biochemical pathways and try to understand where the disruptions in those pathways occur that cause disease. The Biochemical Genetics Lab performs a lot of newborn screening assays, but that's not the entirety of our work. There are conditions that manifest when people are adults, so we look at those, as well.


How did COVID-19 affect your work during 2020?

I was redeployed to the HIV/Hepatitis Molecular Lab, which was doing COVID-19 testing, in June. Initially, I was there to aid in routine testing when the COVID volumes were ramping quickly. But it evolved rather quickly from doing routine lab work to being involved in implementing additional testing platforms. I think the switch happened due to a recognition that some of us who were redeployed were capable of doing that work, and there was a need to fill.

Everything was moving rapidly, and the breadth of what we did there over a short period of time was astounding. We scaled from a few hundred samples a day to 20,000+ daily in a matter of a few months. I have never seen anything like it. It was predominately developers who ended up taking on the roles that involved validating and implementing new COVID platforms. It involved a combination of training with the vendors to get all the instrumentation on-site, installed, and validated for use, and then training the staff who were going to do the work routinely.


What was the most challenging part of being redeployed?

One of the biggest challenges was redefining the work/life balance during that time. It really put life on hold for a while. During the training phases, it wasn't unheard of for us to work 16-hour days. But the need was so great that people just put their heads down and did it.

Another challenge was stepping outside our traditional roles at Mayo. I was doing tasks I had never done before, like helping to design workspace and working with electricians to make sure the correct electrical needs were met for the instrumentation. People stepped up where they had to. Fortunately, there was a broad range of talent. The redeployed staff ran the gamut — technical specialists, clinical techs, quality specialists, developers, systems engineers. We came from everywhere, so if someone was capable of doing something, and there was a need, you just did it.


What’s something inspiring that you’ve seen in your work during the pandemic?

Seeing how committed everyone was to the work and to the patients was uplifting. For example, it was impressive to me that there were people in the COVID testing labs who were there because they volunteered to transfer from their home labs. They saw a need. They understood we were in a fight against this pandemic, and they volunteered to help. And the staff who were in the HIV/Hepatitis Lab prior to the pandemic had a special responsibility above and beyond those of us who came from outside that lab. They had the lab to maintain, as well as creating a whole new paradigm of rapid test development and training. There was a tremendous weight on those folks — who knew the lab and its processes well — to fill key roles. They did a great job. I've never worked with so many selfless, hard-working people. The pace was like nothing most of us have ever experienced, but people responded in a very positive way.


What do you think you'll remember most about this time in your career?

The tumult and the pace is something that will stick with me — there was almost an electricity to it. I got back to my home lab on Feb. 1, and returning to a more traditional pace was a bit of a shock at first. Beyond that, I will remember the great people I met. They are excellent at their jobs, but they are also just good to their core. They made the intensity of being in the trenches against this pandemic tolerable, and even enjoyable, because everyone was working together toward a common goal. Despite the fact that no one had expected to be redeployed — I certainly didn't — it was a good reminder of how dynamic we can be, as individuals and as an organization, and how capable we are to respond to anything that's asked of us.

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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.