It was a record-breaking year for the flu in the Greater Rochester Region. Just ask anyone working in the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Strong Memorial Hospital (SMH), which saw a 37 percent increase in the number of flu tests performed at SMH between July 2017 and June 2018 over the previous season. Our labs performed 17,862 tests in total.
Why the increase? Kim Handley is the supervisor of Clinical Virology, and her team collects weekly data to report to the CDC and also post online. This year’s testing volume was even higher than when the swine flu epidemic hit in 2009.
“It was a record breaking year for testing volume due to several factors,” said Handley. “It was the perfect storm.”
As is typical for the time of year, there was a sharp increase in flu cases during and after the holiday season, when family and social gatherings lead to germ sharing.
Locally, there were more than 6,600 confirmed flu cases in Monroe County, with Influenza A-H3N2 being this year’s primary strain. There were also many cases of seasonal Influenza A-H1N1 and an unusually high number of Influenza B and RSV at SMH.
Handley said that although the lab ran lots of tests, the number of patients who actually had flu was much lower. “Our volumes were up so much but our positivity rate was lower because we were testing so many people,” she said. This could be due to many patients coming to see a doctor when they experience flu-like symptoms.
Flu Hit Country All at Once
Normally, flu season starts in one part of the country and spreads to other regions. But this season, the majority of the United States experienced a simultaneous onset of influenza. This put pressure on manufacturers of the flu testing kits (which contain plastic pipettes and cartridges that are loaded into a machine that gives the results) and the collection swabs and transport materials used to gather the samples from patients.
Testing Materials in High Demand Nationally
The demand for all of these materials grew not only locally, but across the country. In fact, so many people were being tested for flu that URMC was one of many healthcare institutions placed on allocation by their main kit manufacturer. This means the hospital received a limited number of testing kits because demand was so high.
One interesting byproduct of these shortages was collaboration among neighboring healthcare institutions. Lab personnel at Strong shared testing kits and supplies with Rochester Regional Health’s ACM Laboratories and vice versa. When one was running low on something, the others would share.
“It’s not unusual for labs to call each other up when flu season is at its worst,” explained Handley. While this has happened in years past, the collaboration this season was noticeably more frequent.
Lab volumes were high for other reasons. In February, the Food and Drug Administration pulled a widely used rapid antigen test from distribution because it was found that the test had poor sensitivity. This forced several UR Medicine-affiliated hospitals that relied on these tests kits to send their specimens to SMH.
Through it all, however, the laboratory team of medical technologists at SMH rose to the challenge during this particularly difficult season. This according to Nicole Pecora, M.D., Ph.D. is the Assistant Director of Clinical Microbiology at SMH.
“I am proud to be part of such an amazing team,” said Pecora. “Not only did our clinical virologists rise to the challenge of an exceptional flu season, but virtually every member of our laboratory pitched in to deliver the best care for patients, starting from those who received and accessioned the samples to those who picked up extra work and shifts to get through such a tremendous volume. It truly showed the patient and team-directed mentality of our staff.”
In photo: Medical Technologist, Lauren Brooks loads a specimen into a flu testing analyzer at the Clinical Microbiology Lab at Strong Memorial Hospital. This year, the hospital’s testing volume was almost 40 percent higher than last season.
The annual Pathology Research Day event at the University of Rochester Medical Center was held on Monday, June 11, 2018.
The day included more than 50 poster presentations in addition to 12 oral presentationsgiven by Pathology residents and fellows, and graduate students in the Cell Biology of Disease Ph.D. Program.
This year’s keynote speaker was Andrew Folpe, M.D. who is professor and consultant for Anatomic Pathology at Mayo Clinic. His engaging and informative talk was titled, “Phosphaturic Mesenchymal Tumors: What I Have Learned.” A video recording of the keynote is available online (note: UR login is required to view).
The graduate program gave out several awards at a special reception at the end of the day, per below.
View Event Photos
Graduate Program Awards
- Outstanding Academic Excellence by a First Year Student – David Villani, MS
- Outstanding Program Contribution – Sarah Catheline, MS
- Robert Mooney Thesis Award – Irena Lerman, Ph.D.
Travel Award for Oral Presentation
Poster Presentation Travel Awards
- Robert Hoff, MS
- Allison Li, MS
- Xi Lin, MS
- Robert Maynard, MS
Oral Presentation Awards
- Mushal Noor, M.D.
- Nisha Patel, D.O.
- Phoenix Bell, M.D.
Together with friends, family, and future colleagues, URMC's first clinical/medical laboratory technology students graduated from the program on Friday, May 18.
The ceremony included formal remarks by Kathy Parrinello, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and several leaders from Pathology & Laboratory Medicine including Vicki Roberts, Kelley Suskie, and Drs. Richard Burack and Scott Kirkley.
Two awards were given at the ceremony. John Reichert received the Academic Excellence Award for outstanding academics and professional achievement in the program.
Madalynn Bryant received the Aspiring Leader Award in recognition of academic achievement and leadership. This award was given in honor of the late Judy Miller, who was supervisor of the Flow Cytometry Laboratory at the time of her retirement in 2017, and was passionate about teaching colleagues from fellow technologists to residents and clinical faculty.
The intensive, one-year program was launched in 2017. All of the 11 graduates have since accepted jobs at Strong Memorial Hospital.
View a photo gallery from the ceremony
Dr. Bronwyn Bryant is one of the many UR School of Medicine and Dentistry graduates making their mark in the field of pathology.
She graduated UR with her medical degree in 2011 and went on to do her pathology residency at the University of Washington. Later, she completed two fellowships in gynecologic pathology and surgical pathology, respectively, at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Bryant is now assistant professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (specializing in gyn.) and associate program director of the pathology residency program at the University of Vermont, where she began working in August 2017.
Here, she shares more about how she entered the field and what inspires her to this day.
Does your current role allow you to do research, and if so, what are you currently working on?
My academic interests are focused on medical education. I’m currently looking at feedback and evaluation methods for our residents in their surgical pathology rotation by utilizing entrustable professional activities (EPAs).
What first sparked your interest in pathology?
Before starting medical school, I worked as a research assistant for a pathologist (Dr. Kim Boekelheide) at Brown University. I spent a lot of time in front of a microscope at this job. I enjoyed learning bits of morphology, and knew I would enjoy a career with so much microscope work.
I entered medical school thinking about pathology. I loved histology labs and helping my fellow classmates see the morphology. During my first two years of medical school, I attended the weekly autopsy case review whenever I could.
I tried to keep an open mind going into my clerkships, but after a surgical pathology elective in my third year, I was 100 percent sure I wanted to be a pathologist.
When you look back on your time here at URSMD, is there a particular person or experience that made a particular impact on you?
I remember Dr. Linda Schiffhauer presenting at the beginning of our second year Disease Processes and Therapeutics course. She was exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up to be a doctor. I quickly sought her out as a mentor to help shape my career towards academic practice and education.
I always knew I wanted to teach, and my experience in the Medical Education Pathway at UR gave me my first taste of education theory and training, which I’ve been developing and building on ever since.
How do you like to spend your free time outside of work?
Gardening, hiking and cross-country skiing, knitting, and cooking.
Tell us about your family.
I adopted a mutt named Nutmeg (named after nutmeg liver) during my last year in residency, and she is pure mischief and snuggles. When we moved to Michigan, she found my wonderful boyfriend, John, who is now finishing his Pathology residency at the University of Michigan.
What advice would you give up-and-coming pathology trainees looking to start their careers?
Keep an eye out for doors that open for you, as you’ll never know what opportunities may come your way, where they may lead, and what you may learn from them.
Each person to graduate from URMC’s first in-house clinical laboratory technology training program has tentatively accepted a job at UR Medicine Labs at Strong Memorial Hospital where the group is expected to start work this summer.
This is welcome news for the institution, and comes at a time when the number of available licensed medical technologists in New York State is critically low.
The training program was launched in 2017 after URMC ended a longtime partnership with Rochester Regional Health. The curriculum is comprehensive, including both lectures and hands-on work under one roof. Students receive instruction from technical staff and supervisors who work in the clinical labs, as well as Pathology and Laboratory Medicine faculty.
In its first year, the lab education team already views this program as a direct pipeline of licensed staff to help combat the statewide shortage. Upon their hiring, the 11 new graduates plan to work in labs including Clinical Microbiology, Automated (Chemistry) Lab, Flow Cytometry, and Toxicology.
“I am very excited by the success of our first graduating class,” said Melissa Allen, director of operations for UR Medicine Labs. “This is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved from our education manager, education coordinators, bench-level trainers, faculty, staff, and students.”
UR Medicine Labs supports an ever growing service region that performs testing for patients of affiliate hospitals including Strong Memorial, Highland, Strong West, FF Thompson (Canandaigua), St. James Mercy (Hornell), Noyes (Dansville), and Jones Memorial (Wellsville).
It also has more than 40 draw clinics scattered across Monroe, Genesee, Allegany, Steuben, and Livingston Counties to provide convenient options for patients.
UR Medicine Labs staff collectively performed more than 8 million patient tests in 2017 alone.
To learn more about the medical technology training program or to apply, visit their website.
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