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We were guest stars at the science center for Lab Week.

We were guest stars at the science center for Lab Week

The original idea was to display a poster during National Medical Laboratory Week. That modest plan blossomed into a nine-day event attended by 20,000 people.

Like many other schools of medical technology across the country, those in our area of the Midwest are suffering from decreased enrollment. In early 1989, members of our teaching staff held an informal meeting to discuss ways to increase public awareness of the laboratory profession. Someone suggested that it might be a good idea to hang a poster at the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium proclaiming the importance of National Medical Laboratory Week, April 9 through 15. We agreed.

Accordingly, we called the science center for permission. The response was an invitation to do much more.

The center, it seemed, which sponsors special events, had none scheduled for that entire week. We were asked to provide an exhibit depicting various areas of the laboratory field.

An immediate mutual interest developed between the science center and the clinical lab professionals at our schools. It was proposed on Feb. 23 that our display run not only during lab week itself--a Sunday through a Saturday--but also on the preceding and following days, thus incorporating two full weekends and the time in between. We couldn't turn down nine days of free exhibit time at a popular educational site. * Wheels set in motion. The big event was only seven weeks away. Could we pull it off? We were determined to give it our best shot.

A committee of educators from schools in the St. Louis metropolitan area was formed by the president of the Greater St. Louis Society for Medical Technology. His goal was to increase public awareness of the clinical laboratory profession. Participating St. Louis schools included three baccalaureate programs, two hospital-based and one university-based, and one associate degree program. A baccalaureate program and two associate degree programs in nearby Illinois were included as well.

At that time I was serving as president of the St. Louis chapter of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association. I was chosen to serve on the committee as a representative of the hospitals, reference labs, and vendors. My main functions were to find vendors to display equipment representing various aspects of our work and to schedule staff at the exhibit.

My involvement in CLMA has given me a lot of contact with vendors because they give financial support to this organization. Our association made it relatively easy for me to find companies to participate. My search for volunteers to staff the exhibits was aided by the fact that my many years in the field have given me the opportunity to meet every lab manager in St. Louis.

Other educators on the committee made the necessary arrangements with the science center. Including myself, the committee comprised seven people. * Ironing out specifics. During three two-hour meetings, we outlined all preparations and made plans to carry out every detail. We decided to use Sherlock Holmes as our theme. We intertwined such words as "clue," "uncover," "evidence," "explore," and "investigate" through the text of our displays to support our theme.

We decided to highlight four major areas of the laboratory: chemistry, including urinalysis; hematology; blood bank; and microbiology, including mycology, and parasitology. We devised "hands-on" demonstrations pertaining to these fields. In addition, the educators made elaborate posters depicting cytology, histology, and other areas of laboratory work. To make sure safety wouldn't be a problem, we decided to use specimens only in a few slides to remain under their respective microscopes.

The science center is open 12 hours on Friday and Saturday, seven hours on Monday through Thursday, and six hours on Sunday--a total of 76 hours for us to cover. Our schedule called for three- and four-hour shifts at which five technologists and two committee members were to be present at all times. According to this timetable, I had to fill 120 slots, not including committee members. Our lab computer helped us accomplish the complex task of creating a schedule. Now all I had to do was fill the slots! * Calling all volunteers. I sent the schedule to 27 local hospitals. In the cover letter I described the program and explained ways they could be involved. Each facility was asked to cover specific time slots. All but four responded.

The easiest task was to obtain help from vendors. The committee decided to display a chemistry analyzer, slide stainer, microbiology media, and automated dipstick reader. The three companies I called responded enthusiastically. One offered to demonstrate an analyzer and provide reagents and supplies as well as staff during most of the exhibit time.

Another company agreed to provide a hematology slide stainer, stain packs, a urinalysis dipstick reader, and bottles of dipsticks. A third displayed media and pictures showing how organisms look growing on the media.

I am sure that if we ever do something like this again, we will have no problem acquiring assistance from vendors. One said, "Where else can we get nine days of free advertising in one city and have so many technologists look at our instrument?" * Putting on a show. Displays presented by committee members included slide presentations synchronized with an audio tape discussing technical aspects of hematology and microbiology.

One microscope in the hematology exhibit showed a slide of blood carrying leukemia cells; another, of blood depicting the presence of sickle cells among the normal red cells (which one child identified as "pepperoni" while another said "No--Cheerios!"). Next to each microscope we put drawings of the cells and photomicrographs of normal cells, for comparison. A little child looking at a segmented white blood cell remarked, "It looks like an upside-down smiley face."

In the microbiology exhibit, we set up scopes displaying slides of mold, worm ova, and streptococci. The microbiology display included several preserved intact roundworm and tapeworm specimens and several media tubes containing mold growth. We chose these subjects for slides because we felt the general public could understand them.

One seven-year-old boy watching the hematology slide presentation murmured, "Oh, darn." When the technologist behind the table asked him what was wrong, he said--with obvious disappointment--"They're all blood cells." The technologist asked him what he wanted to see; he replied, "Spiders." Off he was sent to the microbiology table in hopes that worm specimens would be of greater interest.

The blood bank exhibit showed a pint of "blood" consisting of red sand and colored water. Children and older students enjoyed watching plasma being expressed as we explained that a single pint of blood is used for many patients.

The remainder of the display showed photos taken by one of the committee members of a pint of blood, packed red cells, and platelets. Yarn led from the picture of the pint of whole blood to the picture of packed red cells and platelets. Using this approach, we demonstrated realistic techniques of blood banking without using the real thing. A description of each product was printed below the appropriate picture.

One of the biggest hits was a poster showing donor and recipient blood types. We devised a chart that listed blood types and indicated which of them could safely be transfused in each.

The artificial arm used to demonstrate blood drawing struck the imagination of one six-year-old, who said, "That really belonged to somebody once." (We assured him it hadn't.) Even more ghoulish was another boy's misapprehension about venipuncture. "After they finish drawing your blood," he explained to a younger friend, "they cut your arm off." Clearly, these children gathered important information about the lab from our exhibits.

We invited visitors at the urinalysis exhibit to use a dipstick in colored water representing urine. We showed how to scan with one's eyes and then run the specimen through the reader. Children loved this demonstration. Adults enjoyed our explanation of how to read sediment microscopically.

Posters of typical cells and of the crystals found in urine provided a great opportunity to teach the public about the relationship between routine urinalysis and urine culture.

Because the center has year-round displays, it is a prime destination for school field trips. During the week of our exhibit, 62 schools visited the center, bringing approximately 500 to 600 children, from kindergarten through high school, each day. We were proud to be a small but important part of the center's educational offerings. The total number of visitors over nine days was 21,163. Even we were impressed!

We are once again working with the science center to plan this year's "production." A new feature will be lectures for career counselors, students, and the general public.

Despite the hard work and long hours, our experience with the science center was a rewarding one. High school students' response was the most promising. With luck, we will have attracted future workers to the clinical laboratory field.

Did we use the original lab week poster we had started out with? Yes--it hung beside a large framed proclamation from the governor of Missouri.

Sister Cecilia Lackman, F.S.M., M.A., MT(ASCP) is laboratory administrative director at St. Mary's Health Center in St. Louis, Mo.
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Title Annotation:National Medical Laboratory Week exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center & Planetarium
Author:Lackman, Cecilia
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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