Monday, March 16, 2015

I will remember you (Musing on retiring TM professionals & their patients)

Updated: 15 Jan. 2019 (Fixed links) 
This month's blog was triggered by ongoing retirements of longtime colleagues, medical laboratory technologists (clinical lab scientists) who work in transfusion services, blood centres, and Canada's provincial blood coordinating offices. The retirements come to my attention because I manage a mailing list ('transfusion'), whose subscribers are mainly Canadian and include laboratorians and nurses.

Because I've blogged about similar themes before, I decided to keep it short and add a few related news items from TraQ.

The blog's title derives from a memorable song by Canadian Sarah McLachlan, one that I've used before and love.

We have known for ages that all health professions have an ageing workforce and that many would retire shortly, presumably leading to significant staff shortages.

Another long-standing concern is an impending brain drain. The loss would be especially acute in the laboratory 
due to automation, regionalization, and centralization, once the few remaining transfusion specialists retire with insufficient knowledge transfer to the next generation. Succession planning has not been a priority in health systems where staff barely have enough time to perform routine tasks needed for safe patient care.

As noted, over the past couple of years, many transfusion colleagues whom I've known for decades have retired, or are about to. They worked from coast to coast to coast in Canada and made incredible contributions to our transfusion medicine system. They seldom, if ever, get the national credit they deserve upon retiring.

Just a thought. Perhaps the CSTM would consider celebrating some of these wonderful transfusion professionals on its website as an ongoing feature?

1. Israel: Health system faces severe shortage of medical laboratory workers . Key points:
  • Close to half of Israel's lab workers are 55 or older
  • Lab worker with a doctorate and eight years' seniority gets 34 shekels ($8.80) an hour, similar to a hospital orderly
  • As expected, graduates prefer to work in other sectors
That low wage is pretty incredible.

2. Canada: CBS Regina component production lab to close in 4-5 years, as production moves to Calgary 

CBS's long-term plan is to regionalize blood component production to a few centres the way it regionalized blood donor testing earlier. Employees who find themselves without a job transfer to other positions (if available), move to other locations (impossible for many), or leave the organization.

The strategy is to innovate, mobilize knowledge, be on the leading edge of best practice, rightsize, leverage business lines, and be a leaner organization. 
Translation: Put safety first in all communications because it makes us look good but get rid of as many staff as possible, hire cheaper ones, save money. 

3. Scotland: Infected with hepatitis C via transfusion, woman charts her journey back to life

Interesting report of a Scottish woman who contacted transfusion-associated HCV ~27 years ago when she gave birth to a child and received 4 blood transfusions.

The UK experience with compensating people infected with HCV via transfusion is messy.

We need patients to remind us that, when the blood system gets it wrong, as it so tragically did with HIV/AIDS and HCV, people may die. And if they survive, they suffer for a long time and in many ways.


  • Let's not forget our retired transfusion colleagues who dedicated their careers to helping others. We owe them a lot, not the least of which is friendship, mentoring, support, and many a shared laugh at meetings. For a chuckle see this conference cartoon via @academicssay on Twitter
  • To refresh the profession, we need to pay people a competitive salary, i.e., competitive to what health professionals with similar education and training earn. 
  • Leveraging and other management jargon, ubiquitous in our transfusion leaders' communication these days, fools no one. It's about the cost savings, stupid. 
  • Our transfusion 'thought leaders' (how's that for jargon?) continue to brag that the system is the safest it's ever been. And it is. That cocksure confidence was what led to the HIV/HCV tragedies. I'd prefer a little less braggadocio, a little more humbleness.
  • Let's never forget the patients in our care whose lives were harmed because our transfusion medicine leaders - caring and dedicated and extremely bright - nonetheless screwed up.
Only one song fits this blog's theme:

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories. 

As always comments are most welcome.