Joel Cayou

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 been here?

My background is in clinical lab science. I grew up in International Falls, Minnesota. I went to Winona State University, where I went through the clinical lab science program, eventually ending up at the University of Iowa for my clinical year. When I graduated, I got a job at a small hospital in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Joel Cayou

During that time, I got married, and we wanted to get a little closer to family. In 1997, we moved to Rochester. I was excited about working for Mayo Clinic with its terrific reputation. I was hired into the Special Coagulation Laboratory. I worked in that area in several different roles until I transferred to Mayo Clinic Laboratories in 2019.


What is your current role, and what does your day-to-day work involve?

I’ve recently become co-supervisor of the Specimen Handling area, which includes Liquid Handling and Distribution. In Liquid Handling, we do preanalytic processing. Our domestic and international clients send us their specimens in a variety of containers, but our high-volume labs need the specimens in standard, test-ready tubes. Liquid Handling transfers specimens into test-ready tubes either manually or with automation. If testing is ordered on a specimen for multiple laboratories, we perform aliquoting by providing a specimen to each laboratory. Again, we can perform aliquoting either manually or with automation. Overall, the work the Liquid Handling team does saves laboratories the time, space, and personnel it would take them to perform their own specimen transfers. We help allow the laboratories the ability to focus on the testing. I am just beginning to learn the distribution side of Specimen Handling, where we sort, deliver, and provide post-storage for laboratory specimens.


How does the work you do benefit providers and patients?

First and foremost in our process, we try our best to safeguard the specimens. We want the lab to get the specimen in the right form, ready to be tested. By doing our job well, we protect specimens from becoming contaminated, getting lost, or otherwise not being available to be properly tested. We try to ensure we do all our processes as carefully as we possibly can. If a preanalytic function isn’t done properly, anything that follows isn’t likely to have much meaning or value. The wrong specimen in the wrong place, or a specimen improperly prepared, could lead to an inaccurate result that could be harmful to a patient and confusing to the provider. Doing our work correctly is essential to patients getting the answers they need.


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

Something people probably don’t think about is that if it comes out of the human body, we handle it, including stool specimens. We do a few different types of preanalytic processing for stool specimens before they are sent to the lab for testing. I’m really proud of my employees — that they make the most out of what some may find an unpleasant task. Patients need accurate test results to make important health care decisions. And again, our preanalytic work on stool specimens saves those labs time, space, and staff, which allows the lab to focus on their test processes.


What part of your job is the most challenging?

Lately, hiring enough staff has been one of my biggest challenges. The job market is very different now than it was when we went into the pandemic in 2020. There doesn’t seem to be as many people out there looking for the types of jobs we have. Our area primarily employs lab assistants and lab processing assistants. We are facing a lot of competition for new employees right now.


What gives you meaning and purpose in your work?

My leadership philosophy is that I’m here to support our staff and our operation. I provide what is needed, whether that’s by listening to concerns, hiring staff, or obtaining equipment. My goal is to provide whatever is needed so that staff can focus on their work, allowing us to achieve our operational goals.

Also, the supervisor group I’m in is just a tremendous group of people with a terrific outlook. Planning for the future with this team is a part of my job that I truly enjoy. Figuring out how we’ll move forward as things continue to grow and change, as staffing challenges continue, is so important. There are some big questions that we need to tackle, and I’m glad to be doing it with this group. I get excited when I am able to think globally and get creative.

Overall, it’s nice to look back at all the opportunities I’ve been part of in my career at Mayo. I’m proud of recently passing 25 years working at Mayo Clinic. I feel very fortunate to be part of the Rochester community and part of the Mayo organization.

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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.