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Lab Director Enjoys Career Full of Boundless Opportunities | NEWS-Line for Laboratory Professionals
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Lab Director Enjoys Career Full of Boundless Opportunities

At first, Donna Hermis, MHA, CHE, MT, (ASCP), SC, CHSO, was only certain of which careers she did not want to pursue.

"My mother was a registered nurse by training, and my dad was a mortician," she explains. "I knew I did not aspire to follow either of those professions. I wanted to be in healthcare, behind the scenes, but in a role where I could help people who were ill."

As the turbulent 1960s drew to an end and the 1970s began, Hermis was a high school student pondering the different opportunities that were opening up to young women. She definitely had her eye on some kind of medical career, but was unsure which path to follow when she attended a career day presentation. "[They showed us] a video about working in a hospital laboratory. [I knew] very little about the lab profession, and no one from my small community had chosen that profession. The video stimulated my curiosity and my career path. I had always enjoyed all of the courses that had labs associated with them, and thought that perhaps working in the laboratory and ultimately going to medical school would be my long-term goal." She was fortunate to have a teacher who encouraged her to take the necessary steps toward medical school, beginning with laboratory studies. Her mentor reminded Hermis that "if the lab was the career I really enjoyed, there would be nothing wrong with stopping there—and so I did!"

After completing high school, Hermis enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her BS in Medical Technology in 1974, and completed The Methodist Hospital (TMH) School of Medical Technology program in the Texas Medical Center, Houston, Texas. She spent the next nine years working as a staff technologist at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. "During training, as we successfully completed a discipline, we were allowed to actually ‘work' in those areas for pay. My first real job in the lab was doing phlebotomy, until I completed hematology. Then I worked extra shifts in hematology and soon chemistry after training, where I was then hired to work full time—my first real job. I was the first technologist in the chemistry lab at The Methodist Hospital to successfully complete the ASCP Specialist in Chemistry certification," she recalls, "with several other techs following thereafter." In 1983 she was promoted to assistant supervisor of Chemistry and Special Procedures, and in 1987 was again promoted, this time to supervisor. She retained this position until 1995, when she became supervisor of the Special Function lab, which oversaw serology, electrophoresis and endocrinology. Also in 1995, she became an instructor in laboratory medicine at The Methodist Hospital School of Medical Technology, and continues to lecture there on a variety of topics to this day. "During my career," she says, "I have held a variety of positions in the lab, with increasing responsibilities, taking two leaves of absence and actually resigning once because I wanted to spend more time with my two children."

Hermis continued in a number of capacities at The Methodist Hospital, including supervisor of HLA and Transplant Technology, and Manager of Laboratory Medicine; she also spent some time as a faculty program lecturer and member of the Institutional Review Board at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston. Remarkably, during these very busy years, she found the time to go back to school, and she enrolled at Texas Woman's University—Houston Campus, completing her studies in May of 2001 with a master's degree in Health Care Administration. She was also becoming very familiar with The Methodist Sugar Land Hospital in the community of Sugar Land, having worked as remote manager of the hospital's lab as part of her duties as one of the lab managers of The Methodist Hospital.

"As a remote manager, I initially came onsite to visit the lab once a week for four hours," Hermis explains. "Soon, with the support of the TMH lab director, I was spending one day a week at the Sugar Land lab due to the rapid growth and increased demands upon that lab. Managing a lab remotely offers its challenges even in a small lab. Upon each weekly visit, I made certain that I saw the CEO of the hospital to keep him informed of the laboratory operation and answer any questions and listen to any concerns that he might have. I attended the hospital's management assembly meetings and began to build strong relationships with the members of the management team. Even though I was not assigned to the hospital full time, other managers sought my assistance with operational issues, and I felt I could contribute to this management team in a very meaningful and rewarding manner." Meanwhile, at the main TMH campus, in order to expand her knowledge of hospital operations beyond the lab's doors, she had become involved in hospital activities that took her outside the lab. She volunteered for many additional projects and became actively involved in hospital safety by serving as chairperson of the Hazardous Materials Working Group. During one of her meetings with the Sugar Land CEO, she informed him that she had completed her master's degree and, by virtue of her increased qualifications, Hermis was offered the position she holds today—Director of Laboratory, Security and Guest Services, including Food and Nutrition Services and Housekeeping, as well as Hospital Safety Officer. She has worked in that capacity since May of 2003, and is delighted to be holding a position that gives her more responsibility and range of concentration than the lab alone has to offer.

"Our hospital's focus is serving our community as a leader in medicine in Fort Bend County, [which is currently] ranked as the third-fastest growing county in the nation in areas with a population over 250,000," Hermis reports. "Methodist Sugar Land Hospital is a new-generation hospital, providing quality services you need in a home-like setting. Through our unique mix of Methodist expertise, technology and specialized care, our hospital brings Methodist quality closer to home."

Methodist Sugar Land is a small community hospital. In fact, Hermis says, it is the smallest of the four hospitals in the Methodist Hospital System located in the greater Houston area. "Our hospital system recently received the distinction of being in Fortune magazine's top ‘100 Best Companies to Work For' in 2006, and employee survey results have continued to be incredibly high, especially for our small hospital," she says with justifiable pride. "Our laboratory performs approximately 75% of test requests on site. Tests not performed in our lab are sent to the main Methodist Hospital (TMH) lab in the Texas Medical Center."

According to Hermis, the hospital is affiliated with "several educational programs that bring nursing students and radiology students to our institution for clinical rotations. We inform our community by holding special learning sessions that are open to the public. Some of these include programs in wellness, birthing classes, weight management and healthy lifestyles." Additionally, Methodist Sugar Land offers "state-of-the-art technology, the latest advances in diagnoses and treatment [and] outstanding physicians from the community." Sugar Land offers emergency services, an intensive care unit and many other specialized services. It also has a Cancer Center that provides radiation therapy, and Hermis says that the program that offers annual prostate cancer screenings to the community is very popular.

Hermis has so many day-to-day responsibilities, each one could perhaps merit an entire article all its own. "As a lab professional, I am a member of the management team at Sugar Land. This team looks to me to provide leadership and expertise when it comes to the operations of the lab. If a particular lab test is needed onsite, administration knows that I will find the best avenue for providing that service. Excellence in the lab in the day-to-day operation means maintaining high standards of performance continuously. Reporting accurate and reliable results in a timely manner best defines my daily responsibilities, and I work closely with the Emergency Department staff to ensure that those patients are the lab's highest priority." She is also in charge of scheduling the staff, monitoring parameters of test performance, critical results reporting, proficiency testing, safety, point-of-care testing and keeping lab policies and procedures on the level with current practices maintaining CAP accreditation. Communication and teamwork between the three shifts are high priority focus areas as is the new information system recently implemented in the lab; there are, she says, daily tasks related to refining and learning this new system. Hermis is quick to give credit to the staff in the lab stating that they are "the key to the successful operation of the lab at Sugar Land. They work hard and know how to make work fun!"

Hermis' work does not stop there. "I am [also] on the Board of Directors of the Houston Chapter of Clinical Laboratory Management," she says. "This gives me an opportunity to be involved in planning and networking activities in promoting my profession in the community. In March 2007, the CLMA national meeting will be held in Houston and I hope to be actively involved in planning a successful event that will showcase the Houston chapter and the lab profession. I seek any opportunity at the hospital or in the community to promote and educate people about the laboratory profession, what we do and how we can help make a difference in the healthcare of individuals. As one of 10 directors in the hospital, it is important that I keep the ‘big picture' in mind and look beyond the walls of the laboratory operation, as the hospital is in the midst of major expansion planning."

Sugar Land, being a community hospital, has offered Hermis more opportunity for direct community involvement. "One of the main reasons that I left the main campus of The Methodist Hospital was because I felt that I could better contribute to the community by being at Sugar Land," she explains. "As Hospital Safety Officer, I participate in the Fort Bend County Public Health Preparedness activities, including planning of hospital support and coordination in the event of an emergency situation in the community. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to help our community while promoting our hospital as a medical leader in that community." As if all this were not enough, Hermis is also contemplating the possibility of pursuing a PhD program, "as I love the challenges of an educational environment."

Hermis has few complaints about what she does. "I would call them frustrations, rather than dislikes—like not meeting the expectations of our customers, and dealing with service issues regarding space. But there is certainly more that I like than dislike! I like the variety that my position has to offer, and I enjoy working with the management team at Sugar Land and the laboratory professionals in our lab. As a director with multiple responsibilities beyond the lab, there is never a dull moment for me!"

For those who are currently in a lab career, or considering one, Hermis has this to say: "A career in the laboratory is a very fulfilling job and offers many different opportunities if you are interested! It is extremely important that laboratory professionals take the opportunity to showcase the profession and the services we provide. Involvement in hospital and community activities is extremely important, as is making certain that you continue to learn and enhance your experiences in the lab. There are many opportunities available, but you need to be willing to take some risks, take the initiative on your own, and not wait for them to find you!" And if anyone can speak to the success that awaits someone who goes in search of these opportunities, it would be Donna Hermis.

Donna G. Hermis, MHA, CHE, MT, (ASCP), SC, CHSO, is the Director of Laboratory, Security and Guest Services, and the Hospital Safety Officer at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital in Sugar Land, Texas. An alumna of both the University of Texas and Texas Woman's University, she has been certified as a laboratory professional since 1974. Find out more about Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on the World Wide Web by visiting

Laura Klotz is a freelance writer living and working in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. She is on the editorial staff of NEWS-Line for Laboratory Professionals.

Photography by Denny Angelle.

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