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National Medical Laboratory Week: silly games and serious science mix.

"We work really hard all year and don't get much time to goof off," says Lisa Zinkovich MT(ASCP), the quality assurance-quality control coordinator at Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories in Rockledge, FL "So, for National Lab Week, our manager lets us have fun and blow off steam." Zinkovich says her lab still has to put work out but during this one week of the year, staffers get to let loose a little.

While the stated purpose of National Medical Laboratory Week is to raise awareness of the role of the laboratory professional as a partner in good healthcare, MD learned of two labs that took advantage of the annual April celebration last year to relax their usual professional demeanor with a few silly games. If these frolics instructed other healthcare professionals about the daily contributions made by laboratorians, so much the better.

Crazy socks, waft pins

Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories (WRL) has 150 employees including pathologists, laboratory scientists, phlebotomists, couriers, lab assistants, and a variety of support staff. In 1997, it celebrated National lab Week with some silliness familiar to many laboratorians--crazy sock day, wacky pin day, and retro '70s day among them. But WRL added a few unique twists:

The purple people eater relay "The purple people eater relay was more than fun; it taught outsiders what was going on in the lab," Zinkovich says. "We wanted a game that involved personal protective equipment (PPE), but knew that if we called it that no one would come." So the familiar term, "PPE," took on another meaning--the purple people eater who preys on laboratorians who don't wear protective equipment. The game was a relay race that required racers to transport "acid" (represented by an egg) in an approved "hazardous materials carrier" (a spoon). Each leg of the race required a runner to put on another piece of protective equipment carry the "acid," find the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for acid and, finally, dispose of both "hazardous material" and PPE in approved containers. "In addition to being fun, the relay was supposed to reinforce training about the importance of wearing PPE," Zinkovich says.

The clottery. The highlight of the week at WRL was the "clottery," which included tickets, given daily to each employee, for a chance to win the prize of a paid day off. Tickets were placed in a sharps container from which the winner was drawn. In addition, lab management gave participants canvas tote bags as well as grab bags filled with goodies. "The clottery was the one event that everyone liked the best," says Zinkovich.

Mystery contest. There were two "mystery contests." The "know-the-nose contest" consisted of 35 up-close and photographs of laboratorians' noses. Participants had to connect the proboscis with the person. And the "mystery employee contest" was a guess-who-that-is event that included daily "cryptic clues" delivered via e-mail.

But not every event was silly. For example, WRL's new lab safety committee sponsored a "know-your-toxic-waste contest." Participants were required to find the MSDS and locate specific pertinent equipment for an assigned chemical. Participants were given movie tickets.

As often happens at fun lab events, everyone ate well. Says Zinkovich, "Every day there was a different kind of food; vendors brought us a ton of it. One day there were bagels, another day, cheesecake; the pathologists gave us pizza one day, and then there were covered dishes with western themes." Vendors also donated gifts, among them T-shirts and coffee mugs.

The challenge of our lab week committee was to combine education with recreation," says Zinkovich. "Increasing workload, decreasing staff, and restructuring has caused considerable stress on employees. AD of us were ready for some well-deserved revelry and merriment."

Getting recognition

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston, TX, used last year's National Medical Lab Week to help solve a common problem--lack of recognition for laboratorians. Their challenge was educating a staff of 600 about the 100-person lab. To achieve that goal, "We planned a special event for every day of the week that focused on one of the five different specialty labs at the Blood Center," says Mary Barrera, MT(ASCP), training and education supervisor. The specialty labs in question were (1) processing, (2) components, (3) special components, (4) clinical trials, and (5) consultation. To educate the entire staff about them as well as about all lab work, "We simply invited everyone to come and learn. We had an open house, a little carnival with games about the lab." What sorts of games?. Among the most successful were:

Shake, rattle, and roll. A dice game in which participants matched icons for laboratory sections, not dots.

Picture contest. Participants had to identify laboratorians by name and section.

Sick the vein. Players were blindfolded and had to stick adhesive dots within target areas on a phlebotomy training arm. "People had such a ball with that," says Barrera.

Guess the percentages. This inservice called for participants to guess the percentages of different ABO types among Blood Center employees to see how they compared with the general population.

Give the SE of life. Participants were challenged to take the individual letters from the Blood Center slogan -give the gift of life," and make as many other words out of them as possible. The winner formed 85 words.

Other NMLW ideas

One of the most successful ideas was a series of five newsletters--one for each day and each specialty lab. Says Barrera, "Each day of National Medical Lab Week, a different issue of the newsletter focused on a different section of the lab. It included stones on the types of processing that went on and the people that worked there." In addition, the newsletters contained features on what it takes to be an MT and crossword puzzles with lab themes. "We also had a `Dear Labby' column in which other blood bank employees asked us things that they didn't know about the lab." In the final day's newsletter was a crossword puzzle, "lab Lingo," which tested readers' abilities to recall dues printed in earlier issues.

As was the case with Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories, many of the prizes were donated by vendors. "They gave us portfolios with pens, Swiss Army knives, little tool kits, and coffee mugs," Barrera says.

National Lab Week turned out to be a success for these Texas laboratorians. Barrera says a lot of people in her lab wanted to know what they could do next year and whether they could serve on the NMLW committee. "Being this is a blood center, a lot of the locus is on the donor. We needed to get the focus on the lab for a change, and National Lab Week helped us do that. We are very happy."
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Title Annotation:celebrations at Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories
Author:Jahn, Mike
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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