Heidi Zunker

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, and how long have you worked here?

I grew up in Pine Island, Minnesota, as a Mayo Clinic patient, and have always valued Mayo’s level of service and expertise. My first job out of college was working with the Rochester Downtown Alliance, where I was marketing and events coordinator. I enjoyed planning events like Thursdays on First and Social Ice. I heard that Mayo Clinic planned and hosted large-scale events, as well, so I applied for an education specialist position with Mayo Clinic Laboratories in 2012. I got that job, and in that position, I was able to carry over my event-planning skills and put on large-scale conferences and events. That was a neat transition to working for Mayo Clinic, as it’s been an organization I’ve always known and valued. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the education world and have grown to enjoy it. My focus has now shifted to digital education. My current role is education program manager for the Mayo Collaborative Services digital education team.


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

A typical day at work for me begins with a morning huddle via Zoom with our education team of eight. We’re a small but mighty team. From there, I’m in meetings with consultants or subject matter experts to discuss upcoming education programs, or I’m building or editing content to publish. The majority of my workload focuses on digital education and on-demand content, such as podcasts, webinars, and online learning modules. I do still coordinate a live conference, as well.


How has the pandemic changed the work you do?

Since the start of the pandemic, our full team has switched to working from home. We’re all learning to work differently. The largest shift for our team was away from the live conferences. Since December, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct two conferences that were completely virtual via Zoom. We also recently had a virtual event platform built. We’ve been using that, so our clients can still interact in a digital format. It’s been a huge learning curve for us. We want to be able to have an interactive experience, like we would in person, and we’re trying to find better ways for our clients to engage in a virtual setting.

Our programs are open to all clients of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, as well as to the public. The conference audiences range from allied health staff — like phlebotomists or outreach coordinators — to physicians. We host a wide variety of events, including pathology conferences and hematology conferences focused on specialty areas. Our largest event draws around 500 participants.


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

Sometimes I feel that education can be a bit overlooked. But we offer valuable content for our clients. There aren’t many places like Mayo Clinic Laboratories that offer content straight from the experts themselves. It’s rewarding to work with our Mayo physicians and allied health staff who are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge. What I think people would find most surprising is that, despite the high caliber of our offerings, almost all of our content is free, with the exception of our conferences. Where else can you access world-class education at no cost? Not many institutions do that. On top of it, many of our programs are accredited, as well, which is a huge value-add for our clients. In 2020 alone, we offered 129 programs, and issued 68,000 certificates and 36,000 credit hours.


What’s the most challenging part of your work?

The most challenging part of my work currently is trying to keep up with the content changes in the new virtual landscape. For example, what worked well in Zoom last month may not work this month. Staying on top of the new technology and platforms where we offer content has been key. We need to keep learning how we can continue to grow in this new virtual environment, too, so we’re offering the best programming that we can. We have received a lot of positive feedback, particularly from clients who, before the pandemic, didn’t have budget to travel. They have been thanking us for offering our material in a virtual setting because they have been able to attend something that was not available to them in the past.


What part of your job do you find the most fulfilling?

I work with really great people; that’s first. But I also enjoy finding creative ways to disseminate education to our clients. I’d have to say my favorite project to date has been helping to start a podcast called “Lab Medicine Rounds” with Dr. Justin Kreuter as the host. I love that show because the goal of the program is helping to bridge the gap between lab medicine and the clinical practice, which is a really important concept. That has been a fun project.

Another thing that has been interesting is that I’ve been able to have the opportunity to produce education during COVID-19, when people all over the world were looking for answers. We conducted a live town hall for our clients featuring Mayo Clinic experts that were directly involved in some of the COVID-19 testing who addressed the current state of testing at that time. We were also able to facilitate a live Q&A session, so clients could get their questions answered in real time. That was such a unique opportunity during a time when everyone was searching for the latest on COVID-19.

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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.