Laboratory: heart of 20th MDG clinic
By Senior Airman Kathryn Reaves , 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 17, 2019
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Tucked away in a corner of the medical clinic, Airmen donned in white lab coats scrutinize data smaller than the human eye can see – information trapped in vials of blood, cups of urine, swabs of skin and containers of other substances not often mentioned in polite conversation.
These laboratory technicians spend their days delving into scientific processes and analyzing hundreds of samples to generate results sometimes in as little as a few hours.
Making an error means potentially missing a diagnosis and jeopardizing a patient’s life.
“It’s a pretty important role,” said Airman 1st Class Chris Savinon, 20th Medical Support Squadron lab technician. “That’s why, in our job, we always have someone double check.”
The Airmen examine a variety of things from glucose and potassium levels, to the characteristics of blood cells and the presence of bacteria like E. coli.
“If a patient has strep throat, some sort of bacterial infection, a disease or whatever the case may be, the doctor will put in an order,” said Savinon. “We’ll test for whatever the doctor is looking for, anything that flags or anything he has a suspicion of. We’ll let the doctor know … and the doctor will treat the patient from the result provided by the lab.”
These laboratory evaluations produce approximately 70% of the information that physicians use to diagnose patients at the 20th Medical Group.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Airman 1st Class Chris Lawson, 20th MDSS lab technician. “Everything that your body filters out, you can literally test for.”
Lab technicians must finish more than two years of training between attending a technical school and completing career development courses at their first base. This training prepares Airmen to not only do sample analysis, but also for patient interaction.
“We’ll see anywhere from 75 to 100 (patients) a day,” said Lawson. “Since we’re a clinic, we don’t see as many patients as the big hospitals like Wilford Hall or San Antonio Military Medical Center, but it’s still really busy.”
The lab supports patient health and the mission of every military unit on base by ensuring Team Shaw service members are fit to deploy.
“I feel like our job is the most important job in the (clinic),” said Savignon. “The laboratory is the heart of everything, because doctors won’t be able to give results or actually diagnose patients if it wasn’t for us. We play a vital role.”