Behind the Labs

By Anastazia Hartman | March 27 2023

In the Department of Pathology, there are many hands that play a role in our labs, and without these individuals, our department wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is. The people behind the smooth-running labs? Clinical lab managers; a group of individuals who work to provide guidance and direction to help reach hospital and departmental goals.   

Recently, four lab managers, Christina Bard, Brian Smola, Emily Schwedler, and Eric Vasbinder, each of whom represents a different lab, were interviewed on topics such as what they as lab managers do to help keep our department running smoothly.  

A lab manager has their hands in many areas, not all directly related to "managing the lab". Many times they are ensuring that staff haveBrian Smola
the resources they need to be successful, looking for improvements, or implementing change when needed. “While managing the daily operations of the lab is the primary responsibility; assuring that all safety, regulatory, and policy and procedures are followed, a lab manager also coaches, mentors, and guides the team, both professionally and personally,” said Brian Smola, Cytopathology Lab Manager.

Christina Bard In a continued effort to support the individuals that work in the labs, Microbiology, Special Chemistry, and Immunology Lab Manager, Christina Bard, mentioned that lab managers work quickly to fix problems. “We are moving the barriers when there's a problem. When my staff can’t get what they need via routine pathways, I support them by raising the flag higher up the food chain to get the right eyes on the issue and the additional resources needed to get the necessary items in so staff can focus on the patients/patient work.” 

Eric VasbinderWhile many of us have daily repetitive tasks, lab managers often have an ever-changing work environment. However, even in this dynamic environment, there is one common goal: patient care. Eric Vasbinder, CORE Lab Manager noted “It's primarily guidance, helping to resolve sticking points. What do they need to facilitate their daily jobs?  How do we minimize issues that might pop up? So, I'm constantly trying to mitigate things that might impact the work so that staff can be focused on the results.”  

If you ask our lab managers, there are a few things they wish people knew about their role. “People outside the hospital don't really understand the lab itself. They don’t understand the complexities of it and that we all have difficult jobs,” said Vasbinder. “There is an incredible amount of effort that's put into making sure that we are the most accurate we can be with the results. We're putting out quality work every single time; we treat each patient as a family member.” 

Emily SchwedlerVasbinder’s colleague, Emily Schwedler, Hematopathology, and Histocompatibility Lab Manager, mentioned the skills needed to ensure ideas become reality. “You really do have to become a master of projects and make sure things come together well. And not just for the function of the lab, but also [to ensure] that everything we do is for the benefit of patients.” 

The future looks bright for the pathology labs, as every individual is looking for ways to benefit our patients and department.  

“The core lab is always looking for growth opportunities; how can we bring in new tests, what would be the impact on patients, what positive impacts?  We're always trying to identify those,” said Vasbinder. 

“We hope to expand our Fine Needle Aspiration service even more.  We currently service University Hospital, Mott Children’s and Van Voigtlander Women’s Hospitals, Rogel Cancer Center, as well as the Brighton Center for Specialty Care and Domino Farms,” Smola mentioned. “As the future of medicine continues to evolve and smaller, community outreach clinics are utilized, we hope to provide on-site assessment services at new locations.” 

In closing, Bard mentioned an important aspect of the Department of Pathology and Michigan Medicine: 

“We're not just a Big 10 University. We are Michigan Medicine. We are driving quality care on a world platform and my team are asking the questions as new technologies come up to make sure that yes, we are at the cutting edge, but it's not just the shiny new tool of the day, it's something that is really going to provide better care.”