Q&A with Quality Assurance Manager Kim Nielson
M. Kim Nielson, MBA, MT(ASCP), earned his BS in clinical laboratory science from Weber State University and his MBA from the University of Phoenix. He is a certified medical technologist through the American Society for Clinical Pathology. Nielson is the Quality Assurance Manager at Primary Children's Medical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Q: What motivated you to become a lab professional?
A: When I was 10 years old I received a couple of models of the human body as a Christmas gift and became fascinated about anatomy and physiology while building and painting the models. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I loved to use a microscope to look at microbes, parasites, cells and tissue and felt certain I wanted to find a career where I could develop and use these skills and instruments.
Q: When and how did you start at Primary Children's Medical Center?
A: My first job out of school was here at PCMC, working as a generalist on the night shift, seven-on/seven-off back in 1988. During the course of my career I have gone on to other opportunities, but have come back to Primary Children's three different times. My current stint here started in 2002, working in hematology, then virology and in 2004 I became the Quality Assurance Coordinator.
Q: How is working at a children's hospital different than working in other settings?
A: Pediatrics is different in many ways, from sample size to normal ranges for tests. Children get sicker faster, and conversely, they seem to be able to recover more quickly as well. Intermountain Healthcare has over 20 hospitals, and Primary Children's is the only pediatric facility in the system. We catch a lot of flack from the other hospitals who are fond of referring to us as "special." The reality is that pediatric patients have to be treated differently than adults, so many things that we do are handled differently here than at other facilities. And so, with tongue in cheek, we say we're "special" here at Primary Children's Medical Center.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: My responsibilities include QA, Point-of-Care Testing, and supervision of the Pathology Office secretaries. Every day is different and I am involved in duties ranging from interfacing with other hospital departments and nursing personnel to resolve issues, to monitoring quality indicators and statistics and giving presentations to pathologists, supervisors, and hospital administration about workload, trends and problem solving. I have served as a facilitator in many quality improvement projects. I am responsible for document control of our SOPs and help to facilitate training and competency of our employees. I also oversee our student internship program.
Q: What type of situations do you encounter most frequently?
A: Mostly troubleshooting problems with specimens. Some examples may be: unlabeled specimens, hemolyzed or clotted specimens, lost specimens, receiving specimens that don't have a physicians order with it. Slow turn around times for tests, writing or addressing hospital event reports to name a few.
Q: What are your likes and dislikes about your job?
A: I really enjoy the people I work with. The friendship and camaraderie we have here is worth a lot to me. I dislike the long commute I have, but the people I work with make it all worthwhile.
Q: If you could describe your job in one word or phrase, what would it be and why?
A: Challenging. No two days are alike, and I am given a variety of tasks to do on a daily basis that can't really be summarized by a job description. In fact, the last line of my job description sums it up like this: "Other duties as assigned." My job "is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get!"
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a lab professional, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: I was Lab Manager at a small, rural facility for eight and a half years and would like to find that type of situation again someday. I think it would also be fun to teach. I like to teach students about this profession and help them understand some of the opportunities that are available to them.
Q: Do you feel that the role of lab professionals has changed over recent years? If so, how?
A: One of the aspects of working in a rural hospital lab that I really enjoyed was the association I had with the local physicians, and how they involved the laboratory in the diagnosis and management of their patients. I haven't really seen that happen very often in the urban hospital setting and I miss that. I believe laboratory professionals are underutilized in the management of patients and are a largely untapped resource.
Q: What do you think medical centers need to do in order to utilize laboratory professionals more?
A: I think most laboratory professionals would be happy to be involved in clinical correlation if time and workload allowed for it. The infectious disease physicians here at Primary Children's do a weekly lunch meeting with our Microbiology Technologists and go over current case studies and findings much like doing "rounds." This way they are involved more with the patients and clinical outcomes.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to laboratory professionals today?
A: Who are we going to get to take our place when we retire? The shortage of laboratory professionals is as acute as nursing, but we don't have the same exposure and go largely unnoticed.
Q: How can lab professionals combat the shortage?
A: Somehow we all need to find our voice and let the world know. I think we need to do a better job of recruiting in the high schools and jr. high schools and let students know about our profession. If I could, I would love to do that full time!
Q: What is something that you'd like to share with other professionals about your career in healthcare?
A: I have had the great honor and privilege to serve my country, and my fellowman in the capacity of a soldier working in a 400-bed military hospital during the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia. I served with the 144th Evacuation Hospital of the Utah Army National Guard in Riyadh where I was Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge of the Lab, Pharmacy and X-Ray departments. When I pass away from this life, I will have the honor of having the beautiful American flag draped over my casket as a symbol of my service and love for this country.
Q: How do you think your time in the military has helped you professionally?
A: I learned a lot about leadership, and being mission focused. During the war, I experienced camaraderie like I never have before in any other setting. We were all away from home during a stressful time, trying to do what we were trained to do. I realized how important it is to be able to trust and rely on the people you work with, and watch their back while they are watching yours. Every person is important in fulfilling the mission, no matter what their pay grade may be.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: That there is an art to communication that involves listening intently and communicating my feelings, intentions and ideas so as to be properly understood.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of entering your specialty?
A: If you love the science and want to make an important contribution to society, you should look into every aspect of this profession. It is fulfilling and rewarding in so many ways. I love what I do, and that's important in choosing a profession in today's world.
Q: What has the most rewarding part of your career thus far?
A: I like to feel like what I do makes a difference in someone's life, even though I'm usually not recognized for it. And it's not the recognition that I'm after at all, I just want to make a small contribution to helping a child get well.
Working in the laboratory has afforded me many rewarding experiences over the last 24 years. I have made many wonderful lifetime friends and had many experiences that have helped me realize that I made the best choice of careers for me. I have experienced laboratory work in all levels, beginning with phlebotomy and bench tech, to supervisor, manager, consultant and CAP Inspector. Albert Schweitzer once said, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." This is my personal philosophy of my profession, and I love what I do.
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