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.
When I was at Emory University in Atlanta working on my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to take a course pertaining to molecular diagnostics, specifically polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. We’ve all heard of this technology over the last year with COVID to help diagnose the infection. But at that time, laboratorians were just beginning to use it as a new means to look at DNA and RNA sequences to detect and identify infectious agents.
Learning more about the power of this technique, specifically in the field of microbiology, I was hooked. After completing an internship at the Centers for Disease Control that involved PCR technology, I began to look for a career where I could do more work in this field. Having a contact here at Mayo Clinic who was using PCR technology to detect and diagnosis Lyme disease, I connected with him and was hired. In the fall of 1993, along with several other people, we launched a new Molecular Microbiology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic. We started with three tests that took a few days to run and report out. Now, 28 years later, it’s blossomed into hundreds of these tests in clinical microbiology with results available sometimes in hours.
Currently, I’m the senior product manager for infectious disease testing at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. Several opportunities over the years help drive me to this role. While working in the lab from 1993 to 2017, I had lots of opportunities to perform molecular testing, see firsthand the positive impact to patients, conduct research, collaborate with supply chain to budget, and perform capacity planning for future testing initiatives.
While in lab management, I had the opportunity to work with Roche Diagnostics as a customer advisory board member to provide input on new molecular instrumentation that their company was pursuing. (I never could have known it then, but the instrument that came to fruition is being used at the Superior Drive Support Center. Over the past year, it was the workhorse that got us through vast amounts of COVID testing.) Through the many years in management and the experience with Roche, I found I really enjoyed the vendor and industry ties, and I began to think about whether I wanted to continue in the lab or branch out. When the product management position came up — that incorporates management, marketing, supply chain, new test development, and continued quality patient care — I decided I wanted to go this route to see what I could contribute from a business standpoint.
The main goal of my work is to understand infectious agent testing at Mayo Clinic that can be differentiated, or that is unique and beneficial to patients. I then put together a promotion and campaign around the test and help train the sales team, so they can market it. I also field inquiries from the sales team, clients, and consultants. Right now, a lot of my time has been responding to COVID-related activities and inquires. As the pandemic begins to wane, I’ll once again be focused on understanding what’s the best, most appropriate testing we can offer to our clients to help them care for their patients.
Infectious disease has gotten to a point of personalized medicine. With a lot of the technology and testing that’s available, we can get snapshots of an individual patient case and guide them to their appropriate treatment path much more effectively than we could even two or three years ago. It’s the uniqueness of the testing we offer and the patient management around those results that we provide — that’s really why we’re doing this. Due to where the molecular technology has gone, coupled with the experience we have in our internationally renowned Mayo Clinic consultants, people can trust our testing. We establish algorithmic approaches for the diagnosis and management of each patient that providers can rely on. Laboratorians, day-in and day-out, have the opportunity to “interact” with thousands of patients. It is rewarding to bridge the activities of the laboratory to the clinicians that deliver patient care around the world.
Infectious disease and microbiology testing has always been unique in that it touches a wide variety of patient cases and clinical specialties. As we discuss what clinical specialties we want to have a conversation with regarding our testing, it spreads far beyond infectious disease specialists. Cardiologists, neurologists, family medicine, emergency medicine physicians, any number of other specialists and subspecialists, may be interested in what we’re doing because any of their patients could be affected by an infectious condition. So I see collegial conversations and interactions with various clinical specialties as integral to the infectious disease testing world in a way that might not be necessary for other laboratory medicine disciplines.
In the work I do now, I’m able to apply my experience from the lab in a new business manner that benefits patient care. It can be a marathon when it comes to researching the feasibility of a particular testing campaign or promotion. When it gets a thumbs-up, and we get to move forward, that’s exciting. I get to work with our great consultants and marketing colleagues to educate our sales team, and we’re able to provide that team with the appropriate tools and resources, so they can go out and promote what we have to offer. Then we’re always following up, seeing how items are working or not working. When that all comes together and you see success, that’s when you can walk out at the end of the workday with your head held high.
A pioneering researcher, Dr. Vanda Lennon has spent five decades delving into questions of neuroimmunology. Today, she continues that work as director of the Neuroimmunology Research Laboratory in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology.
Before he arrived at Mayo Clinic, Tim Brantner worked for a variety of organizations outside of health care. He joined Mayo Clinic Laboratories 14 years ago to help tell the labs’ story.