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.
I was in graduate school and got my master’s degree at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. The jobs that appealed to me were in hospital labs, and many of them required the MLS (medical laboratory scientist) certification, so I applied for the U of M’s medical laboratory scientist program. I was accepted into the program at University of Minnesota Rochester. I moved to Rochester and completed the program here. When you’re in Rochester, you notice Mayo Clinic. As I was finishing my program, I applied to Mayo, along with a number of other places, not thinking I’d necessarily get a job at Mayo Clinic. But I got an interview and an offer, and I wasn’t going to turn that down. So I stayed, and I’ve been here ever since. That was in 2012.
I started in the Bacteriology Lab testing patient specimens for bacterial pathogens. They have a core bench group, which involve typical cultures. Then there’s also a specialty group that focuses on aerobic identification — what we call our Special Procedures area. I was trained for that area. I also had some molecular training doing PCR-based assays. I did that work for about 6 1/2 years. Then I went to test development in Genomics for 3 1/2 years. Although I liked that, when COVID hit, I was redeployed to do COVID testing and was there for almost a year. I really liked the clinical side of that and the fast-paced work. So afterward, I decided to go back to Bacteriology. That’s where I am now as a clinical laboratory technologist.
I’d have to say it’s been the work I’ve done in Bacteriology with our MALDI-TOF (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight) instrument. When I first started in the lab, we only used our MALDI-TOF system for just a few organisms. When I got involved, we started collecting data on how the system worked. We’d collect isolates we couldn’t identify, then we’d conduct further identification to see what they were, and use those isolates to build the MALDI-TOF library. In that way, it’s become more useful for many different types of organisms. Through this process, we found that MALDI-TOF was as good, if not better, than the other systems, such as biochemical analysis and 16s gene sequencing. It was also cheaper and quicker. With one of the other systems, it might take 48-72 hours before you are able to identify an organism. With MALDI, it can be as short as five minutes. Of course, with some specimens, you may have normal flora present. MALDI-TOF helps speed the identification of these organisms and focus in on true pathogens.
Mayo Clinic has had a Bacteriology Laboratory for over 100 years, and our susceptibility testing is still growth-based, as it was back then. Because of that, people might be surprised how much our lab still looks like the one you might have seen in your college-level microbiology course. We still have petri dishes, and the organisms still have to grow on them. A lot of microbiology medicine is based on things that will grow in the lab. Although, molecular testing is changing that and making it possible to detect the genes that are responsible for antimicrobial susceptibility, for example. A lot of times we will grow the isolate, but then submit it for molecular testing to rapidly define its antimicrobial susceptibility pattern. So state-of-the-art technology is coupled with the traditional approach.
We put a lot of effort into making sure we’re staying on top of all the CLSI (Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute) guidelines for identification, and those guidelines can change frequently. When they come up with new guidelines, that trickles down to how we submit the isolates for testing. One area of the lab might change for the new recommendation we have to follow, but the integration of specialties together at Mayo Clinic means there is a ripple effect. And then communicating the changes to all involved can sometimes be difficult. It’s important to stay current with those guidelines, but it can present challenges, too.
I really appreciate that at Mayo Clinic, as a bench tech, I’m given the opportunity to get involved in different projects beyond just my day-to-day work. There’s room here for people who have ideas, and who want to improve the processes and make things better. People who show that kind of aptitude are allowed to explore. You don’t have to just come to work, do your work, and go home. There are opportunities beyond that. I’m glad to be part of an organization that values that kind of exploration.
As director of Regulatory Affairs for the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Shannon Bennett helps safeguard Mayo Clinic’s reputation for quality care by ensuring that its clinical laboratories operate at the highest level of regulatory compliance.
As a clinical laboratory technologist, Daniel Kronemann enjoys going beyond his day-to-day work as he explores new ways to enhance processes and systems in Bacteriology.