Wednesday, 21 June 2017 11:57

Q&A with Debra Myers: A Chief Technologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center

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Published in Careers

Debra Myers is a Microbiology Chief Technologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She received her BS in Medical Technology from Temple University and MS in Health Administration from St. Joseph’s University. She then went on to get two certifications - a Medical Technologist (MT) and Specialist in Microbiology (SM) from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

She gave us information on what newly hired lab/bench technicians in clinical microbiology can do to navigate the beginning stages of their career.     

ASM: What's the most important piece of advice you have for those just starting their career "on the bench" in clinical microbiology?


  • Observe and learn. Take advantage of all the educational opportunities, especially case studies that might be informally or formally presented in your laboratory or at professional meetings or on the internet. Case studies will give you insight into how the information from the microbiology lab is interpreted and used by clinicians.

  • Seek advice and question the reasons for why a decision is made. This will help you to make your own decisions in the future.  Learn to look at the bigger picture and what the overall result will mean for patient care.  It takes experience and attentiveness to recognize what is normal in a specimen, what is suggestive of contamination, and what is likely to represent a true pathogen that is likely to be contributing to a patient’s illness.

ASM: How do you think a young clinical microbiologist should approach a prospective mentor in the field and what sort of advice and counsel should they seek?

DSM: Initially I would suggest they observe their surroundings and determine for themselves which aspects of the job are the best “fit” for them.  Then, earnestly seek advice from someone whose skills and knowledge they admire. Do not try to dazzle him or her with what you already know. Instead, share your thoughts about your current work and your aspirations for your future.  Ask for suggestions about ways you can enhance your career, one step at a time.

ASM: What key advice would you offer a mentee?

DSM: Do your homework and learn whatever you can about the field of microbiology. Your best resource is ASM—it is worth buying a student or supporting membership. The Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute and CDC are great resources too. Also, join and participate in ASM’s clinical microbiology listserv. There is a wealth of information available by reading (via email) the experiences of others. Finally, network wherever possible.

ASM: What do you look for when interviewing candidates for jobs in your lab?

DSM: I look for the following:

  • Experience and knowledge in clinical microbiology
  • Flexibility in both skills and schedules
  • Passion for the science
  • Pleasant demeanor/likeability

ASM: How important do you believe the "nontechnical skills" are to career advancement in the clinical laboratory field?

DSM: Nontechnical skills are extremely important! Your technical ability is only one part of the job. The ability to communicate, make decisions, and interact with others both inside and outside of the lab are essential for succeeding in one’s current position and any advanced positions.

ASM: In your view, what sort of accomplishments or achievements are highly valued and rewarded in the field?

DSM: The accomplishments that I value most are those that provide clear results. For example, completing implementation of a new test; participating in a study that results in a face to face presentation of a report/poster at a meeting inside or outside of the lab; providing thoughtful comments on current or new protocols, etc.

ASM: What are the most challenging aspects of your job on a day-to-day basis?

DSM: On any given day, it is not uncommon for me to encounter a variety of issues which often require different skills. Technical problems can be challenging and typically involve my doing some investigating to determine an efficient solution. Keeping up with changing technology and deciding what to bring into the lab is also challenging. And of course, everything must be documented and meeting accreditation requirements involves a lot of paperwork. I also spend a considerable amount of time managing inventory, which is challenging because of the number of different products that must be stocked, many with a limited shelf life.  As a supervisor, I frequently encounter personnel issues. I’ve learned over the years that it is extremely important to manage staff with consistency and respect.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 12:12
ASM Careers

ASM’s careers blog focuses on young scientists seeking career advice, professional development and career exploration. Here you’ll find “a day in the life” profiles on working scientists, tips and tricks on how to craft resumes, find a mentor and transition from academia to industry.

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