When You Say “The Lab”—Who Are We, Really?

Published by Irving Nachamkin, DrPH, MPH, on January 15, 2015

On a recent morning, I asked a few non-lab staff whether they knew what goes on in “The Lab” and even where “The Lab” was located. Many of the physician providers I have come to know over the years don’t even know the answer.

Actually, “The Lab” is not a single entity but a host of subspecialty laboratories performing tests to help diagnose or manage various health conditions of patients seen within the health system. These labs include our Core Laboratory (7th Floor Founders). The Core Lab performs all of the high volume common tests and is the most automated section within the Department. Our Central Receiving and Processing Area is also located here.

Within the Core Laboratory, there is a Chemistry line, a Hematology line, and a Coagulation line, in total performing 4 million plus tests per year. Also located on 7 Founders are the Immunology Laboratory, the Histocompatibility and Transplant Immunology Lab (aka the Tissue Typing Lab), Special Coagulation, and Flow Cytometry. On 7 Gates, we have the Special Hematology Lab (soon to move to 7 Founders), the Endocrinology Lab, and the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory. On 7 Maloney is our Toxicology Laboratory. Finally, the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory is located on the 4th Floor, Gates Building. 

Then there is the virtual laboratory know as Point-of-Care Testing. POC does have a physical lab where tests are performed, but the testing is really done throughout the hospital by over 3,000 employees. Transfusion Medicine and Therapeutic Pathology is a separate division in our Department, but is also considered part of “The Lab” at many institutions and part of the overall discipline of Clinical Pathology.  
As you might imagine, it takes a lot of brainpower to run these laboratories. We are proud of our division 24 faculty members, 10 managers and more than 250 technical staff who operate these laboratories, many on a 24/7 basis. Our faculty include MD and PhD laboratory directors with subspecialty training in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Most of our technical staff are certified as Medical Technologists (MT), Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS) or equivalent and perform the vast majority of moderately or high complexity testing. 
In addition to providing extensive and highly complex testing to providers, our faculty are also involved in scholarly activity spanning the many disciplines of pathology. As experienced investigators, we are a valuable resource to other investigators at Penn and we encourage you to contact us to consult on your projects or serve as Co-Investigators as appropriate. Finally, our staff really enjoy interacting with physicians and other providers at HUP, and we welcome you to visit “The Lab,” learn what we do, and educate us on your needs for the future.
Irving Nachamkin, DrPH, MPH, D(ABMM), FAAM, FIDSA, is the Director of the William Pepper Lab and the Division of Laboratory Medicine at Penn Medicine.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog column are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.