Lab Matters Spring 2023 | Page 4


Provoking Total Transformation

In this edition of Lab Matters , we discuss the Laboratory Response Network as one aspect of how public health laboratories — and public health laboratory science — needs to modernize . But it is about a lot more than just improving infrastructure or having the technology necessary to innovate . It ’ s about transforming and redefining the core function of public health laboratories .
During the COVID-19 pandemic , some of the confusion about public health laboratories arose when we were asked to serve as reference laboratories for high-volume testing for SARS-CoV-2 . At that point , it was harder to differentiate between us , hospital laboratories and clinical laboratories . We were all working toward the same goal : provide actionable data to our partners and effect lifesaving public health solutions for our communities . At least for Mississippi , that had not been our core function . But we found that , in doing that work , we did it well while keeping in compliance with regulations .
So we are now asking ourselves : who are we and what do we need to focus on ? We do not just want to go back to what we were doing three years ago — we have realized that we really have a bigger role to play in the community in helping guide public health decisions moving forward . For example , a hospital in our region reported a new pathogen in patients that had no travel history . After diagnostic testing , additional characterization and collaborating with CDC , we were able to identify an endemic strain of Bulkholderia pseudomallei . Without those established relationships with the hospital , we would have been much slower in identifying the pathogen and enabling the hospital to provide treatment .
In allowing our communities to guide us during this “ transformation ” process , we are realizing that we are not just laboratorians , but we are subject matter experts in each of our roles . We are educating ourselves within the laboratory about the technological advances and data modernization initiatives that have come out of the pandemic . We are providing a communications bridge between our federal and local partners . And providing that bridge is a responsibility for everyone in the laboratory — from the director to the administrative staff , we need to embrace what that will look like going forward .
Another component of this transformation is developing our workforce . We are going to have to approach workforce development a little differently and be much more hands-on than in the past . As I have talked about before , having APHL as a resource during the start of my career has been invaluable . Just having a network of colleagues to call on when times get challenging has been one of the greatest resources to me . If we were to all add an APHL component to our onboarding orientations and involve these new colleagues in determining those new or revised core functions of a public health laboratory , we can set the foundations for growth and positive change . Keeping our new staff wanting to learn and wanting to belong to a supportive , collaborative network will be critical .
Transformation happens in many ways – big , small , science-based , people-based . As we continue to find our footing after three years of pandemic response , it is a great opportunity to focus on how to use our new relationships , resources and momentum to change the world in our public health laboratory . g
In allowing our communities to guide us during this “ transformation ” process , we are realizing that we are not just laboratorians , but we are subject matter experts in each of our roles .”
Daphne Ware , PhD President , APHL
2 LAB MATTERS Spring 2023
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