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 came to Rochester straight out of college with a degree in industrial engineering and was working for a local manufacturing company. Rochester still had some of that small town vibe, and a former colleague of mine reached out about a new opportunity. He said the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) was forming a small team of engineers to bring some of the Lean Six Sigma methods, tools, and concepts to DLMP.
To be honest, it was not even a field that was on my radar, but after discussing it with him and a few others it sounded like a fun and interesting new challenge. I put in my application, interviewed with some amazing people, and have now been a systems engineer with DLMP for 18 years.
I am a systems engineer, which in DLMP means I partner with the laboratories and business offices on evaluating their processes and workflows for quality, efficiency, and cost improvements. We currently have a team of 15 engineers, each focusing on specific laboratory speciality groups. Each of us are also subject matter experts on specific improvement methods, which allows us to move between the laboratory groups we support.
Each day can and does bring new and interesting situations, but there is one common theme. Everyone is focused on making things better and getting results in the hands of the patient and their care team in an accurate, timely, and cost-effective manner. Our role is to help provide guidance and support throughout the improvement process by providing training, improvement tools and documentation, and data collection and analysis.
The problems we work on each day can have direct and indirect impacts on the patients and providers. Addressing an issue with turnaround time of a test result can mean patient treatment can begin earlier. Identifying an efficiency in the workflow can bring our costs down, making the test available to more patients.
The Mayo Clinic logo has three shields on it that represent the clinical practice, education, and research. In most “traditional” settings, the engineering group would be solely focused on the clinical practice. However, we spend a considerable amount of time training and teaching the process improvement concepts and tools we deploy. If someone had told me the one semester I spent in Toastmasters back in college would have been so important to my future career, I would have stuck with it!
We all struggle to step back and take a hard look at what we do each day, becoming comfortable in our daily routines. A big part of process improvement is changing that routine for good reasons, but that change can get uncomfortable. It is my job to help our teams manage that change and to understand its purpose and end goal.
I liken it to our daily commute. There are days where we hop in the car and the next thing we know we’re in the parking lot, not exactly sure how we got there. We have gotten so used to the route we take each day — avoiding the potholes, timing the stop lights, avoiding the specific time of day the bus shares the road with us — that we don’t stop to think there might be a better way. Perhaps finding a different route, maybe the potholes should be repaired, installing some roundabouts, or widening the road so we can all share it. These can make our drive quicker, safer, and more cost-effective, but it requires us to get out of habit, analyze our routine, and make some changes. It might be uncomfortable in the short term, but eventually we start to make it our new habit and enjoy all the benefits that come with it.
Every day can bring its own challenges, but what gives me purpose and hope is those moments throughout the day when I have, or someone I am working with has, one of those “aha moments.” Something just clicks, the pieces start falling into place, and you can see a clearer path ahead. It is a great feeling.
Before joining Mayo Clinic, Samantha Aldrich worked for a multisite hospital system in Michigan for 10 years. Now, as a regional service representative for Mayo Clinic Laboratories, she serves as a client advocate and works to help send out laboratories improve their operations, services, education, and training.
As a senior principal developer for the brand-new Process Innovation Through Automation Laboratory, Brian Dukek helps labs throughout the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology evaluate new automation tools and streamline automation workflows.