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From the Editor's Desk

My professional life just came full circle

by Dennis Ernst • February 06, 2020

Editor's Desk

Dennis against blue sky

Last week my professional life came full-circle in a truly profound and meaningful way... one I would never have predicted.

The circle began 40 years ago in Saginaw, Michigan when I landed my first job as a medical technologist. I was still a student, not yet even certified, when I was offered a part-time position at the laboratory at Saginaw Medical Center. I will tell you I was like a deer in the headlights, new in the field, and clueless about working in the trenches of healthcare. All I had was book-sense and no world-view whatsoever.

I remember how good it felt to have a marketable skill at last. Four years of fits and starts trying to settle on a major and career, and now it was all behind me. Someone actually wanted my services as a laboratory professional. Wow.

As first jobs go, it was as good as it gets for someone as wet behind the ears as I was. After graduation and certification, though, I was lured away by a higher wage and spent the next 3 years at a blood donor center testing donor units and making components like platelets, fresh frozen plasma, and cryoprecipitate. I always knew teaching was where I was headed, though I didn't know how or where. All I knew is that I needed real-world experiences if I were to ever educate effectively and was certain they didn't exist in Michigan. Call it garden-variety wanderlust or just bona fide naivete, I left Saginaw three years later and called Southern Indiana home for the next 36 years, working in a variety of labs in Indiana and Kentucky, ultimately starting the Center for Phlebotomy Education.

Fast forward to last week.

I've been back in Michigan two years now, hanging the Center's shingle in downtown Cheboygan. This year's top priority is to produce the 3rd edition of our Preventing Preanalytical Errors video. But the problem is finding a location to film it. I don't have the connections up here that I established in "Kentuckiana' for filming... or did I? Though I severed it 40 years ago after only a few months of employment, I could think of no lab more fitting than where my career first began. The Saginaw Medical Center laboratory, now part of the Covenant healthcare system, welcomed me back with opened arms.

When I arrived last week with the film crew, it felt as if I were some kind of celebrity that came home at long last, the city's favorite son, a home-town boy returning victoriously from the war. Of course, the staff is not the same as when I was there. (But then neither am I. Having worked in labs both large and small my world view is far different now and I'm teaching to my heart's content.) I posed for pictures, signed autographs, and was virtually handed the keys to the laboratory. For the next seven hours we filmed one of the industry's most important (and popular) videos in the lab where I once clocked in and out like everyone else, still green as a gourd and dripping-wet behind the ears. My 40-year circle was complete.

Filming in a clinical laboratory

The staff and management were incredibly tolerant of our imposition on their workflow, and it progressed like clockwork. Not because I was so prepared and the crew was so skillful (though they were), but because the staff, specifically Alison, the lab educator, was so organized. If it weren't for her dedication and organizational skills, it'd have taken twice as long. By the end of the day we filmed no fewer than 36 scenes depicting various aspects of sample collection, centrifugation, processing, handling, and more. That's about five per hour without breaks.

It should come as no surprise that everything flowed so smoothly last week. Whenever the stars line up like they have for this project, there's a certain harmony that makes everything fall together with perfection. While we are nowhere near done (we still have narration to film and editing all the footage), the hardest part is over. I think you'll be quite pleased with the finished product, and if the rest goes this smoothly we hope to make it available to you in DVD and streaming in June or July.

It took 40 years for me to come back to the beginning of my professional career, a career whose path I neither scripted nor conceived, but one that unfolded as it was preordained and with me to only discover. That I came home to such a humbling reception was magical, but unearned. If it weren't for the itch to be from Michigan and not a resident of it 40 years ago, I'd likely had stayed at Covenant. Would I have ever gotten that world view I thought I needed in order to teach effectively? Would there even be a Center for Phlebotomy Education today? Who knows. All that I'm sure of is this: everyone eventually ends up where they're supposed to be as long as they follow the good urgings of their heart and walk through the open doors. For me and Covenant, the good urgings and open doors, even the name of the system, have added a certain poetry to this video production, and to my walk through life.


Dennis J. Ernst, editor

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Covenanat dennis ernst filming preanalytical Preventing Preanalytical Errors Saginaw videos

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