Time: Appreciating How Long Testing Takes

I have had many medical students, residents, and fellows rotate through my Transfusion Medicine department.  Hardly anyone has had any interest in making my discipline his/her career.  It is a required rotation or an “easy” rotation during which the trainee may take his vacation.  The trainee will cram for the examination and then promptly forget it.

I left practice in the USA in 1990, in what I consider the golden age of laboratory medicine.  We had supervisors for each laboratory section.  In the blood bank, we had many staff with SBBs or who were SBB students.  We were very self-sufficient in handling immunohematology problems except for rare blood types or antibodies to high incidence/prevalence antigens.

When I returned to visit my old laboratory.  I sensed a deprofessionalization of the laboratory and blood bank in particular.  Blood Bank now is a cost center, not an area of revenue.  Why hire experienced blood bankers for most hospitals?  Send the antibody workups to the Blood Center.  There are limited jobs for transfusion medicine consultants.  Minimize testing, don’t do extended antigen typings, etc.

Nowadays, I feel like one of the dinosaurs marching into oblivion as in Walt Disney’s Fantasia film, the section called The Rite of Spring.  Who will replace those of us retiring?  Have you ever noted the average age of attendees at the AABB annual convention?  I feel young when I go there (and don’t worry about the gray hair!)

I want to attract new doctors and scientists to Transfusion Medicine.  I really try, but most have no interest and look on their rotations as a necessary evil.

I have lowered my expectations for most medical trainees in Transfusion Medicine.  They don’t like it, they just want to pass it, and move on.  What must I impress them with for their future careers?  What is essential for them to remember?

I have had both pathology and non-pathology trainees.  Surgical and ob/gyn doctors used to spend one month whereas the hematology and pathology residents/fellows spent on average three months.  The few interested in the field might do multiple rotations.

I still gave them lectures on a variety of topics, especially how to transfuse blood components, basic ABO/Rh antigens, compatibility testing, and direct antiglobulin testing.  They would forget most of this, but I wanted them to remember TURN-AROUND-TIMES:

How long does it take to perform the test?

Find compatible blood?

Thaw the plasma?

Release a massive transfusion protocol shipment?

Complete a transfusion reaction workup before releasing more blood?

I am not discouraging people from entering the field, but I am a realist to know that few will share my passion for serology or want to take call on difficult immunohematology cases.  At least if they understand the pressure the technical staff are in and these turn-around-times this will make both their work as clinicians and mine as transfusion medicine more congenial.