What goes on back there, anyway?

Emily Schouten


Editors Note: Emily Schouten is the Laboratory Director at Woodlawn Hospital.

Did you ever wonder what happens to your blood sample after you leave the lab? I recently asked my teenagers what they thought happened to samples in a lab and my daughter asked , “Do you have vampires in the lab?” Fortunately, we do not have any vampires in the lab. We do have staff who want to give the best possible care to our patients.

What happens to a blood sample in the lab after a phlebotomist draws your blood? 

At Woodlawn Hospital, a blood sample’s first stop is in the Chemistry department. A lab technologist, who has extensive training, reviews the doctor’s order to make sure the correct samples are collected by the phlebotomist. Next, the sample is processed so that it is ready to be tested on one of the many machines in the lab, called an analyzer. There are many analyzers with cutting edge technology in the lab and each analyzer tests for very specific items in your blood. Some analyzers measure material in your blood such as glucose or cholesterol. Other analyzers count the red blood cells that carry oxygen and the white blood cells that fight infections.

Not every blood sample is tested on an analyzer. Many samples are handled by the lab technologists, stained with special dyes, and looked at under a microscope to help identify unusual cells in the blood or bacteria growing inside the body. A lab technologist is trained to identify common problems such as bacteria from a person with a urinary tract infection to unusual parasites like malaria.

Woodlawn Hospital has a microbiology department on site inside the lab. Microbiology is a specialized department where samples from the human body are placed in petri dishes to grow the bacteria that are causing infections. Once the bacteria grow, the lab technologist places the bacteria in an analyzer that can determine which antibiotic is best to treat the infection.

Most lab tests are completed on the same day they are collected. All results are reviewed by the lab technologists before the report is sent to your doctor. Sometimes there are tests that are not finished at Woodlawn Hospital. These tests are sent to a reference lab for more testing.

The next time you are in the lab at Woodlawn Hospital ask the phlebotomist about what happens to your blood sample, but please do not expect to find any vampires.

Editor's Note

Emily Schouten is the Laboratory Director at Woodlawn Hospital.
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