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Laboratory Medicine Program staff living double lives

October 14, 2016

Gastrointestinal pathologist and immunometablosim scientist, Dr. Daniel Winer, impressively balances clinical care and innovative research to best serve current UHN patients and those who may need care in the future. (Photo: UHN/Laboratory Medicine Program)


In case you missed it on UHN News (10.05.2016): 

The infamous, “So what do you do?” question can stir an inner conflict in most. Even when the question is specific to profession, medical staff from UHN’s Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) may struggle to choose a definitive answer.

Between balancing clinical work and research, for LMP staff, the answer may just depend on the day.

In LMP, there are hundreds of different specialized laboratory professionals who practice clinically each day. Many of these same staff also dedicate huge portions of time outside of their clinical work to advance medical research and conduct innovative studies.

This type of juggling between research and clinical practice is one that many in LMP choose to embrace, as their clinical experience can often help steer research towards practical applications.

“‘From bench to bedside’ is a phrase we use a lot in LMP and our staff research is a great example of how we deliver innovation from our labs to our patients,” says Dr. Runjan Chetty, interim medical director, LMP.

“Lab medicine is often considered an essential aspect of any study, and our medical and technical staff routinely contribute to and lead investigative studies, bringing clinical experience to the forefront of medical research.”



Blood transfusions are now quicker, simpler for patients

October 11, 2016
Sally Balmer, Kate Uchendu and Ina Cherepaha-Kantorovich

Sally Balmer, (C), Manager, Blood Transfusion Laboratories, shows a unit of donor blood which will be cross-matched for the patient ahead of a clinic visit to Kate Uchendu, (L) Nurse Practitioner, UHN Red Blood Cell Disorders Program, and Ina Cherepaha-Kantorovich, (R), Nurse Manager of the Medical Day Unit. (Photo: UHN)

In case you missed it on UHN News (10.05.2016): 

David, 71, and Kayla, his foster daughter, used to travel 320 kilometres in total to Toronto General Hospital every month for Kayla’s transfusion. Now their time on the road and in clinic has been reduced by half.  (Photo: UHN Visual Services)

A program developed by the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Red Blood Cell Disorders Clinic, UHN Transfusion Medicine, Medical Day Unit and LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services decreases patient trips to the hospital and cuts wait times for blood transfusions in half.

TGH patients can now have their initial blood drawn at a location near their home or work. These blood samples are then transported to the Blood Transfusion Laboratory at TGH where the sample is used to crossmatch the patient with donor blood in preparation for transfusion.

Having the samples collected and tested before patients come for their transfusions reduces time spent in clinic and the need to come to the hospital twice.

“This program has had a profound effect on our patient experience,” says Kate Uchendu, Nurse Practitioner, UHN Red Blood Cell Disorders Program, who spearheaded the new process with a team from UHN Blood Transfusion Labs, UHN Red Blood Cell Disorders Program, LifeLabs and the Medical Day Unit.



IQMH Q&A with Mary Fountas

September 30, 2016



During the week of November 14-18, LMP and all of its labs will undergo a peer review assessment by the Institute for Quality Management in Healthcare (IQMH).

The assessment is a familiar process for many LMP staff as Ontario labs are required to renew their accreditation every four years, but for newer staff there can be a lot of unknowns. To shine some light on IQMH, the purpose of the assessment and what LMP staff can expect we asked Mary Fountas, LMP Quality and Safety Manager a couple of key questions. So if you’d like to learn more, read the Q&A below!


  1. What’s the purpose of IQMH accreditation?

Successful IQMH accreditation is all about showing patients, clients, and ourselves that we are meeting our commitment to safe and effective patient care, and continually improving our practices.

  1. How has LMP scored in past IQMH assessments?

In the past we’ve received very few citations in IQMH assessments. In 2012 we actually had zero majors and zero repeat citations. Though, it’s important to point out that receiving citations isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact I think it’s often a reminder that there’s always room to improve how we do things.

  1. What does it mean to receive citations from IQMH?

You know how in your house you stop seeing things that other people might notice at first glance? A lot of the time citations are just like that. That’s what makes it an important practice. If there’s anything we’re doing incorrectly or anything we can improve on we want to receive that citation, so we can address the issue and make our practice better for everyone.

  1. As an LMP staff member, what role do I play in the assessment process?

Your primary role is the same as it is on any other day, and you just continue to perform your work as it’s documented to be done. If an assessor from the IQMH team asks you a question, answer them to the best of your ability and try to show evidence in Paradigm or lab documents to support your answer. If you’re unsure what the assessor means or what they are looking for, ask a colleague or manager for assistance.

  1. What types of things will assessors look for as they tour our labs?

You can expect the IQMH team to look for records or evidence showing that we meet the requirements set in our quality management system. Assessors will also follow along in our work and ‘buddy’ with staff at the bench to see the process we use to conduct a particular test or activity.

  1. Is there anything we need to do to prepare our lab space?

As someone who specifically focuses on quality and safety, it’s always a good time to tidy up your workspace and check to make sure you know where specific documents and records are kept. If you see anything out of place or of possible concern, notify your manager or supervisor.

  1. What do we hope to learn from this assessment?

When it comes down it – we want to confirm what we’re doing right, and learn what areas we can improve on.

  1. Any other thoughts you’d like to share as we get closer to our assessment dates?

I think the most important point to make is that the IQMH team is not here to assess you, but here to assess our facility and how our quality management system supports you in your work. It should be taken as a positive to have this type of peer-review assessment and it ties in with our commitment to Caring Safely and becoming a High Reliability Organization.


Stay tuned for more details on LMP’s upcoming IQMH assessment in the weeks to come!

Going above and beyond: Laboratory Medicine Leadership Awards

August 26, 2016

leadership awards

Since 2008, the annual Laboratory Medicine Leadership Awards have awarded 20 staff members who are nominated by peers who want to recognize their value in the workplace.


Originally published internally on UHN’s Intranet newsroom.

Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) staff enjoyed great food, music and company at its Staff Appreciation BBQ last week. And standing out from the typical barbecue fixings were the ninth annual Laboratory Medicine Leadership Awards, which were given to three deserving staff for their outstanding approach to patient care.

“Leadership can mean many different things in laboratory medicine,” explains Michele Henry, Senior Director, LMP.

“We have roles for ‘official’ leaders, but these awards recognize those who go above and beyond what is expected from them, and lead by example to bring out the best in others.”

Candidates are nominated by their colleagues and co-workers, and a committee must narrow the selection down to three staff members who display formidable qualities of leadership on a daily basis. There have been 20 winners of the annual awards since 2008. This year, the awards committee received over 25 nominations.


The winners of the ninth annual Laboratory Medicine Leadership Awards are:


Janice Hawes – Blood Transfusion Lab


Award winner Janice Hawes (L) was presented with her certificate by Michele Henry, Senior Director, LMP. (Photo: UHN)

Janice was nominated by six of her colleagues

“Anytime she sees that there are a number of her co-workers that have the same questions, she will start a little ‘talk’ to educate all of us… If I have a problem she is there welcoming me with a solution and then also teaches me how to solve it myself next time.” – Sally Poon

“She is a fantastic lab tech and employee. She is unique, outspoken and an extremely valuable asset to Transfusion Science and UHN.” – Megan MacQuarrie

“Janice approaches every problem and provides very practical solutions. Recently she has revised many SOP’s/ procedures in serology that will help improve the workflow of the lab. She is committed to excellence and seeks and enforces continuous improvement in each area of the lab.” – Neeru Sahni


Ivana Vidovic – Core Lab – Hematology


Ivana Vidovic (L) receiving her Laboratory Medicine Leadership Award at last week’s LMP staff barbecue. (Photo: UHN)

Ivana was nominated by Jaimelyn Rara and Maryam Ghorbanian, who both wrote the following nominations.

“Ever since I started at UHN as a student, Ivana had always stood out as someone who goes out of their way to help others. After working with her for four years, she has remained that dependable person you can always go to for help, guidance and support. She is easy to talk to, welcoming and very inclusive. She works so hard and pushes herself to the limit and beyond to get things done. She is one of the most selfless individuals I know and everything she does is ultimately driven by providing the highest quality of patient care. I aspire to be as great a technologist as her and can’t think of anyone else more deserving of this award. She’s a true leader in every sense of the word.” – Jaimelyn Rara

“One of the most important benches in hematology is the morphology bench. Ivana trained all new staff in morphology with patience and enthusiasm, and then suggested weekly Morphology Rounds with LMP hematopathologists so all staff could benefit from their knowledge and experience.” – Maryam Ghorbanian


Magda Waszul – Cytogenetics


Magda Waszul (L) was also nominated last year and received the Laboratory Medicine Leadership Award this year after being nominated a second time. (Photo: UHN)

Magda was nominated by Cherry Have, who described the leadership qualities that Magda brings to the cytogenetics lab.

“Magda actively participates in laboratory meetings and works together with the team to address initiatives to improve laboratory services. While working on her initiative to test less expensive consumables, she constructively designed a systematic study to solve and determine reasons for poor quality testing during winter months.”

“Magda continues to approach both her work and life with tremendous positive energy and passion – a trait admirable in leaders.” – Cherry Have


Congratulations to all other outstanding nominees: Sally Campos, Core Laboratory; Peter Faure, Pathology; Stephen Fitzgibbon, Transfusion Medicine; Vivienne Jones, Specimen Management; Paul Martens, Biochemistry; Jaimelyn Rara, Hematology; Jeanette Campbell, Specimen Management.



BUSY Lab: Knitting sweaters with Mary

August 26, 2016



This week the BUSY Lab connected with LMP quality and safety manager, Mary Fountas to learn a bit about what she does to take a break from the BUSY and shape her personal health and wellness. The theme: Knitting.

“It’s fun to make something yourself, and really doesn’t require a large investment,” says Mary.

But that being said, knitting didn’t become an enjoyed hobby for Mary right off the bat.She was first introduced to the activity by her mom at around 10 years old, and lacking the coordination and maybe a bit of patience it didn’t take. The second time was still as a kid and knitting was a component of a class at school, but again Mary wasn’t able to fully embrace it. Finally, years later and enrolled at the Michener Institute, Mary noticed one of her classmates knitting and after seeing the progress she would make throughout a class – it seemed time to give it another try.

“It looked doable – and I’ve always had the mindset ‘well if they can do it, I can too.’”

So the third time was the charm, and from there it didn’t take long before it became a fun, productive, and economical hobby. Mary points out too that as Canadians we have lots of opportunity to be wearing wool sweaters, and we also have a lot of opportunity to actually knit when we’re stuck inside during those winter months.

“You’re able to feel a little better about staying in and watching T.V.,” says Mary.

The benefits of knitting can really differ depending on the person. For some it may be to relax or to keep occupied, others might use it as a creative outlet and challenge themselves with different designs and patterns, and some might just want save money on a new sweater or toque. Whatever the benefit may be there are certainly lots of reasons to try and pick up the hobby.

Mary says knitting doesn’t even have to be a solo activity. When first starting out, she and a roommate spent the better part of a winter knitting together and watching football.

Mary would knit the lower half of sweaters, and her roommate, who was good at knitting tightly around collars, would do the upper half. Working together they were able to make nine sweaters that year for friends and family.

“It’s really neat to make your own clothes, but it’s just as great to see people wear the clothes you made for them,” says Mary.   *Though it was pointed out that she’s not ready to take on any requests!

For those that may be interested in trying knitting there are tons of great resources to get started. You can take lessons at knitting/wool shops (they also offer some at Toronto’s Public Libraries), there are lots of instructional YouTube videos and there are even online social groups with active communities that share tips, tricks, designs and patterns (Mary suggested

Mary’s current project is a sweater for her son Michael. And though she’s still in the early stages of it you can see what is going to be an awesome recreation of The Dude’s sweater from the movie the Big Lebowski!



…Though as a true quality manager, Mary pointed out that the weave could be a bit tighter if she were following the quality control procedures perfectly.


What do you do when you need to feel “BUSY”?

                                       What’s that thing you do that makes you happy (“Bliss”),

                                                                                         or helps you relax (“Unwind”),

  or makes you feel like you can take on anything that comes your way (“Strength”)?

                       Mary might put aside time to knit a sweater.  What would YOU do?

The BUSY Lab

Stay tuned for the next time we hear about another LMP staff member’s BUSY activity.  We hope these stories may remind you about your BUSY thing, or even inspire you to try something new!



Summarizing the experience: HMC Qatar visitors from July

August 19, 2016


This summer UHN’s Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) welcomed nine members of the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) laboratory team for Personalized learning Programs (PLP). In addition to the learning programs offered to HMC doctors and technologists, the HMC leadership team also paid a visit to LMP to better understand our operational structure and workflow.

The collaborative efforts stem from a partnership between HMC and UHN/ Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and gives each organization the opportunity to share expertise and advance laboratory medicine globally.


Meet five HMC visitors from the month of July:


Dr. Madiha Soofi (July 18 – August 5)


(L-R) Dr. Runjan Chetty, LMP medical director; Rachel Whitty, LMP manager, International Partnerships; Dr. Emran Amir, HMC pathologist; Dr. Madiha Soofi, HMC head of Pathology; Michele Henry, LMP senior director; Dr. Adham Ammar, HMC pathologist; Brad Davis, LMP executive director. (Photo LMP)

Dr. Madiha Soofi spent her time in LMP working alongside subspecialty pathologists in gastrointestinal pathology and also focused on clinical leadership, including workflow processes and laboratory operations as she will be named the interim head of anatomic pathology upon her return to HMC.


  1. What surprised you most about your visit?

I was fascinated by the city of Toronto – it’s the most diverse city I’ve ever seen, and I’ve traveled and stayed in many places around the world. It reminds me of Doha in a way because there is every colour and race present, so as a visitor you don’t feel uncomfortable and really feel like part of the community.

At UHN specifically I was just so surprised by the hospitality shown by everyone. Staff were so welcoming and organized – it really made our stay comfortable.

  1. What will you take back with you to HMC?

As head of anatomic pathology at HMC, a major take away for me will be the level of organization I’ve seen here and the workflow in place that makes life easier for staff. I’ll also be going back with more experience in my GI subspecialty, and the intention of standardizing the work we do and how it’s reported.

  1. How would you summarize the experience?

For me, it’s been great learning operational strategies from a system that’s already faced challenges similar to those at HMC. It was a homey and comfortable environment to learn, and there was amazing support from everyone… It couldn’t have been better.


Dr. Emran Amir (July 18 – August 5)

Drs. Madiha and Emran

(L-R) Rachel Whitty, LMP manager, International Partnerships; Dr. Madiha Soofi, HMC head of Pathology; Dr. Emran Amir, HMC pathologist; Shannon Spencer, interim manager, UHN ICE; Michele Henry, LMP senior director. (Photo: LMP) 

Dr. Emran Amir spent his time in LMP working alongside subspecialty pathologists in solid organ hematopathology. He focused on molecular hematopathology, including test validation, and also reviewed various types of lymphoma cases. Once back at HMC Dr. Emran plans to introduce new World Health Organization classifications, expand and validate molecular testing, move to EBER in situ hybridizations for EBV instead of immunohistochemistry, and also start using digital microscopy.


  1. What surprised you most about your visit?

I was really taken back by the huge workload handled by the program – and how it’s managed in such an organized fashion. The size of the department, the number of staff, and how many patient cases come through was very surprising.

  1. What will you take back with you to HMC?

I’ll take back a lot of what I learned with Dr. Delabie (hematopathologist, and chief of hematology and transfusion medicine) including an extra focus on molecular exposure in my work.

  1. How would you summarize the experience?

Just wonderful! That alone sums it up.


Dr. Susanna Akiki, July 18 – 29

Dr.Susanna Akiki

(L-R) Madhura Thiagarajah, PM research technician; Dr. Zafar Nawaz, HMC clinical scientist; Dr. Suzanne Kamel-Reid, LMP chief of Laboratory Genetics; Dr. Susanna Akiki, HMC consultant scientist; Shannon Spencer, interim manager, UHN ICE; Rachel Whitty, LMP manager, International Partnerships. (Photo: LMP) 

Dr. Susanna Akiki, consultant clinical scientist spent her time in LMP working alongside genome diagnostic staff in a PLP focused on molecular oncology for laboratory directors. While here she worked specifically on gene sequencing as HMC plans to establish a 54 gene myeloid sequencing panel in Qatar. This was Dr. Akiki’s first time visiting Toronto and luckily she found time to not only embrace her role as a scientist while here, but also her role as a tourist while sightseeing with her four children.


  1. What surprised you most about your visit?

The food is fantastic here. With Doha relying largely on imported food, it’s been great getting to enjoy fresh organic produce for the last two weeks. The ‘farm to table’ restaurants are incredible as well – my family runs an organic farm back in England called Elm Farm, and we found a great restaurant close to the hospital called Elm Tree – so that was a nice added bonus.

  1. What will you take back with you to HMC?

The science and translational research seen in the lab and across UHN. It’s also the confidence of having trained at a centre with the kind of weight UHN has.

  1. How would you summarize the experience?

It was great! A really positive experience all round. As a Canadian I would say, ‘awesome’ and as an English woman I’d say, ‘very nice’.


Muna Al Zeyara (July 25 – August 5)


(L-R) Rachel Whitty, LMP manager, International Partnerships; Dr. Adham Ammar, HMC pathologist; Muna Al-Zeyara, HMC technologist; Shannon Spencer, coordinator, UHN ICE; Dr. Adam Smith, LMP cytogeneticist; Dr. Wafa Abualainin, HMC clinical scientist . (Photo LMP)

This was Muna Al-Zeyara’s second time in a Personalized Learning Program with LMP. She was first here last fall for cancer cytogenetics, focusing specifically on HER2, MYC, IGH/BCL2 and BCL 6. This time her two week program focused specifically on ALK, as well as continuing with other lymphoma testing. The HMC cytogenetics lab has since received the ALK probe, and once they receive test cases for ALK they will begin validation.


Dr. Ahmad Al-Sabbagh (July 11 – 22)

Dr. Ahmad Al-Sabbagh, head of hematology, HMC spent two screen 1weeks working alongside LMP staff in a PLP focusing on flow cytometry. He worked closely with Dr. Anne Tierens and Amr Rajab on 10-colour flow cytometry analysis and familiarizing himself with different flow panels and software. Additionally, Dr. Ahmad spent time in the hematology lab, which included touring the bone marrow bench, overview of hematology instruments and tests, review of Cellavision validation for morphology, and attending leukemia/lymphoma rounds.



That’s a wrap up on five of the nine PLPs LMP has hosted this summer, and we will follow up with summaries on our remaining observers once our last PLP closes in September. As always, it’s been a great experience welcoming HMC staff into our labs and sharing laboratory expertise with one another. We look forward to the future of the partnership and the advances we’ll be able to make for cancer care in Qatar.



The LMP BBQ: Good food, great company

August 19, 2016

bbq and awards
This week Laboratory Medicine Program staff got together for the annual LMP Staff Appreciation BBQ, where staff were able to enjoy delightful weather, delicious food, and dance-worthy music (though it unfortunately wasn’t dance-worthy enough to spark a repeat of last year’s ‘twist,’). All in all, it provided everyone a nice mid-week break and a chance for staff from around the program to come together and enjoy a complimentary summer barbecue.

LMP managers, supervisors, and volunteers served up burgers, sausages and barbecued chicken to close to 350 laboratory staff – and as a group we all made a pretty big dent on the sides and desserts. It was another successful barbecue for LMP, and to take staff appreciation a step further the winners of this year’s Laboratory Medicine Leadership Awards were announced.


This year’s winners are:

Janice Hawes – Blood Transfusion Lab

Ivana Vidovic – Core Lab – Hematology

Magda Waszul – Cytogenetics


A big congratulations to all our other exceptional nominees: Sally Campos, Core Laboratory; Peter Faure, Pathology; Stephen Fitzgibbon, Transfusion Medicine; Vivienne Jones, Specimen Management; Paul Martens, Biochemistry; Jaimelyn Rara, Hematology; Jeanette Campbell, Specimen Management.

Stay tuned for a post next week on UHN News to hear what nominators had to say about this year’s winners!


ALSO – see below for photos from the BBQ!


^ Congratulations to award winner Janice Hawes (L), with her certificate being presented by Senior Director, LMP, Michele Henry. 


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