Bethany Stibbe comes to work each day excited that it is going to be a little bit different than the day before.
But lately, her job has been a lot different because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Niles resident is a microbiology technical specialist for Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph. Stibbe oversees all of the microbiology and molecular lab testing done at the hospital, and for some of the outpatients.
Since the start of the pandemic, that has included processing the COVID-19 tests as well as preparing her lab for the lack of testing supplies and the possibility of an influx of patients.
Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Alexandra Newman talked with Stibbe about her behind-the-scenes job at the hospital and how the pandemic has changed it.
What’s a typical day like for you?
On a typical day, it depends. I also work a bench, which is actually working on cultures, identifying organisms and running PCR (polymerase chain reaction). So I do that on occasion just to keep up with competency and make sure I am in the nitty gritty of it all.
On a higher level, I do a lot of quality assurance and control because in a laboratory setting we have to do a lot of quality control, making sure all our reagents work appropriately and making sure testing is working appropriately.
I help with the schedules and work directly with the medical technologists to manage their work flow and their training.
I also do a lot of research into new products, instruments and testing, as well as validations when new technology or new tests are brought into the department.
How did that change with the pandemic?
We’ve flipped a lot of our focus into different areas. Even in microbiology we are impacted by some of the shutdowns because patients are either afraid to go out or people aren’t seeing their regular physician for routine testing. We’re also impacted by surgeries being delayed because a lot of routine surgeries get cultured just to make sure everything is clean.
Where we would see more volume of routine samples, we’ve been impacted in that way. However, we’ve also been doing a lot of COVID testing, so our volumes in that aspect have been driven upward.
We sort of took on some new roles as well in the laboratory, working on more supply management. PPE isn’t readily available, testing kits aren’t readily available and even the testing supplies.
We’ve had to kind of put on some different hats and learn some things, as a laboratory, we never really had to do before. That is good because we have a lot of support with all of our other teams, especially our team up in Grand Rapids. Now that we’re part of the whole collaboration of Spectrum Health, it’s been really helpful to have them as a resource.
How did you end up in this career and what sort of schooling is required?
I started wanting to be in medicine in general but not quite sure what I wanted to do. I went to Michigan State University. I started out doing a human biology degree, but if you don’t go to medical school after, it’s kind of hard to do something with it.
At MSU they have a program for biomedical laboratory diagnostics, so that’s what I decided to go into. I really like the aspect of it where it’s kind of like detective work almost, where you’re trying to figure out, and piece together, what the patient is suffering from with the laboratory results.
I completed my bachelor’s degree in biomedical laboratory diagnostics, and shortly after I graduated, I moved back into the area (I grew up in Niles) and got a job at the South Bend Medical Foundation in the microbiology department.
I worked there for about three years, then decided to take an opportunity at Lakeland as a regular medical technologist in the microbiology department, then, not long after, I was given the opportunity of technical specialist.
To be a medical technologist you need either a two-year or a four-year degree, as well as some clinical experience, then you also have to pass an exam to become board certified.
I did my focus in microbiology, so I have a categorical in micro, and then, last year, I studied really hard and got my specialist certification in microbiology, which is a bit of a step up from a generalist. That required three years experience in the field and taking a specialized exam.
What do you like most about your job?
What I’m most excited about with micro is every day is different. A lot of jobs where you’re in the monotony of doing the same thing everyday, microbiology is always changing, always evolving, and technology improves, like getting faster results for patients.
Even just the day-to-day things. Bacteria, they are so interesting. They don’t really follow the rules. They do what they want and it makes you think. You have to use your brain a lot to figure out the troubleshooting. It keeps it interesting.
Is there any part of the job you don’t like or don’t like as much?
Not really. I love it. Somedays it gets busy, but that’s like most jobs.
It’s all worth it in the end because we’re really helping patients. Even helping other health care workers. Without the lab and the testing, they wouldn’t know what they’re dealing with and how to treat the patient appropriately. It’s super rewarding that we’re impacting them in our own way.
Workers in the health care field are getting a lot of praise and thanks for all the work they’re doing right now. Is there anything you’d like to say to that thanks?
I think it’s great that they’re offering thanks to all health care workers, even though people mostly think of nurses and doctors, but there are people like us in the lab, or people in environmental services cleaning up the rooms, and people working in food service preparing meals for the patients and the workers at the hospital.
This pandemic has really brought to light a lot of those unsung heroes of the health care system, seeing how much they impact patient care. They’re there really making a difference. It’s great to be recognized.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
I actually got married in September and we bought a house a couple of years ago, so we’ve been doing a lot of home improvement projects recently. We have two dogs that we love to take care of and walk. We have really been enjoying those things a lot, even in the quarantine.
Is there anything else you’d like to say or make sure that I include that I didn’t ask?
I think we covered it all. Even with the COVID testing, we’ve also been doing a lot of really hard work trying to be prepared for a surge if it comes.
We’re working really, really hard to make sure we’re able to take care of all the patients, and test all the patients that need to be tested for COVID.