Everyday Heroes of Lab Week 2020

Jennifer Blakeney, MLS(ASCP)SM

Lead Technologist, Microbiology / Immunology, Beebe Healthcare, Lewes, DE

"You have to be ready for anything and keep every possibility in your mind when looking at cultures."

What is your favorite part of your job?  

What I like most about my job working in the Microbiology laboratory is that every day brings something new. When you are working with cultures, every patient’s culture is different, and you never know what you are going to see when you open and examine the plates. It might be a bacterium that you see every day, or one that you might only see once a year. You have to be ready for anything and keep every possibility in your mind when looking at cultures. I’ve been a Medical Laboratory Scientist for almost 30 years and it truly never gets old.


Why did you decide to go into Medical Laboratory Science?  

I thought I wanted to be a doctor, a pathologist specifically. I’ve always been fascinated with biology, anatomy, and the workings of the human body. I knew I wanted to do work along those lines, but I don’t do well with direct patient contact and I didn’t think I could make it through medical school because of that. Then I learned about the Medical Laboratory Science field, which allowed me to participate in the care of the patient without direct patient contact and use my knowledge to help physicians diagnose illness. I’ve always been drawn to the field of infectious disease and chose to specialize in the field of Microbiology when I got out of school.


Any comments on workflow experiences/personal challenges during COVID-19? 

COVID-19 has most certainly been a challenge for us all in the medical field. I remember watching it all unfold in early January and knowing how viral respiratory illness spreads in a community. I knew it was inevitable that it would affect my community someday in the not too distant future. I tried to increase my supply inventory of basic things I knew we would need (like viral specimen collection kits), but it wasn’t enough.

While I knew it would affect us, I wasn’t prepared for just how much it would bring the world to its knees. In the very beginning, managing our supply chain and inventory of critical products was really challenging. For the laboratory, that included things like swabs for specimen collection, viral transport media, and testing kits, and I’m still having a hard time with that 2 months later. It is also my job to ensure that my staff is safe and has the proper personal protective equipment. We are performing testing now for COVID-19 in my laboratory, but in the beginning we were testing for a lot of other viral respiratory illnesses to rule them out because we could not test for COVID-19 yet. We’ve been handling positive specimens for months and we needed to be able to protect ourselves.

On a personal note, it’s been challenging managing my stress and fear of bringing this illness home to infect my family. My husband has asthma and I am trying to protect him at all costs. My son is a senior in college, and his last semester and graduation celebrations have all been cancelled; it’s devastating not only for us, but for the millions of other seniors who won’t get to experience what senior year is all about. It’s just a strange time; I hope we come out of this pandemic having learned some things about preparedness and the need for a robust public health system.


Feel free to add anything else you want to say as the stage is all yours!  

I have had a great career as a Medical Laboratory Scientist; I love it as much today as I did 30-years ago as a fresh-faced graduate learning at my first job. There is always something new to learn, a new technology, a new advancement, a new discovery. It’s challenging, stimulating, and rewarding every day!