Day in the Life: This Lab Scientist Hunts for Disease ‘Clues’


Sarah Ullom, MLS, (ASCP), walks through the laboratory doors at 6 am. For the next 10 hours her world is one of vials, bacteria-growing containers that use sheep’s blood as the medium, sophisticated virus and bacteria hunting machines, and more.

Welcome to a day in the life of a medical lab scientist. Sarah’s job is to help providers at the bedside in the hospital and in Munson Healthcare clinics identify what is making a patient sick.

“The rewards of working in this field are knowing the major role I play in a patient’s diagnosis.  Though it is behind the scenes, the information we provide can be life changing in addition to saving patient lives,” she said. “This role provides the necessary clues to physicians.  Without the results the lab provides, a doctor cannot diagnose medical conditions, provide treatments, evaluate treatments, or monitor diseases.”

Healthcare Opportunities

A graduate of Northwestern Community College and Ferris State University, Sarah said her path to her current lab role began with other healthcare opportunities. She began working at Munson Healthcare in 2013 as an orthopedic floor certified nurse assistant. Two years later she transitioned to being a phlebotomist – the person that takes blood samples for the Lab.

“I became very interested in lab operations and was eager to gain more knowledge,” she said. “I worked in the phlebotomy department part-time and decided to take another part-time position as an aide in Microbiology. This career was extremely interesting to me, and I determined this was the career I wanted to pursue.”

She was accepted in the Ferris medical lab scientist program in 2015, graduated, and did her internship at Munson Medical Center before being offered her current role.

She enjoys the variety of tasks and assignments that come her way.

“You never know what the day is going to entail,” she said. “That is the exciting thing about it.”

Analyzing Samples

This day, Sarah is using a machine called the “Panther” to test for the virus that causes COVID-19 in a batch of samples that came from pre-surgical patients. She also is preparing test tubes for analysis in the Vitek machine which can identify antibiotic sensitivities for treatment of bacterial infections. Another task is to prepare slides for the Maldi-Tof machine used for rapid and accurate identification of bacteria, mycobacteria, and certain fungal pathogens.

Sarah said a typical day in the lab begins with morning rounds.  All tests ordered on Munson Medical Center inpatients are collected by the phlebotomy team and sent to the lab via pneumatic tube.  Scientists perform the requested tests and place the specific results into patient’s charts.  Throughout the day the lab receives specimens from inpatients.

In addition to specimens from inpatients, specimens are received from the Emergency Department, Cowell Family Cancer Center, and all Munson Healthcare affiliated lab locations.  This includes all outpatient offices and clinics, nursing homes and all Munson Healthcare owned hospitals.

“I work in all areas of the lab which include Blood Bank, Chemistry, Hematology, and Microbiology.  With my lab aide experience, I can perform these duties, if needed as well,” she said. “In the lab we analyze a variety of biological specimens.  Examples include cancer testing results, predicting the correct antibiotic to prescribe, and typing the correct blood for surgery. Medical Lab Scientists provide answers to diagnose and treat life-and-death situations every day.”

Understanding Her Calling

It was while working in the Blood Bank area of the Lab that Sarah understood the importance of the Lab and her own calling to her role. It came on a day when a patient needed dozens of units of blood for a positive outcome.

“The very first mass transfusion protocol I facilitated was one of the biggest mass transfusions in Munson Medical Center history,” she said. “The patient had received over 80 units of red blood cells and is alive today to tell his story. I am grateful to have been part of the team which saved this man’s life.  It will forever be one of the most rewarding memorable moments of my career.”

Technical challenges are also part of the job. When analyzers are not working properly, the scientist needs to trouble shoot the situation while performing other tests. Sarah said in those situations she prioritizes every specimen in each situation using the best course of action to provide the best patient care.

Lab Careers

Sarah recommends anyone interested in science and in being part of a team integral to patient diagnoses and care to consider a lab career at Munson Healthcare.

“Munson Healthcare has helped me become the medical scientist I am today.  I have learned many roles in the lab and each one is rewarding.  I have also many gained skills in troubleshooting and communication,” she said. “The team I work with is very dedicated and hard working.  We all play an important role in ensuring the lab produces accurate and reliable results.  Our main goal as a team is to use our skills to complete what is needed for all patient specimens and always place patient care first.”