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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 on September 2. 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. 


Read more…

Looking back: Berit Cameron’s 50 year service milestone with UHN

August 18, 2016



For this year’s UHN Spring Long Service Recognition ceremonies the Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) had 28 staff members recognized for more than 500 years of accumulative service, but standing out from the pack was Berit Cameron’s 50 year service milestone. And what’s more – it represents 50 years working in laboratory medicine exclusively.

Since many weren’t able to experience what the labs were like 50 years ago, we asked Berit to take us back and share some insights from her years of service at UHN.


Joining the laboratory team

Berit was first offered a position at Princess Margaret Hospital (then located at 500 Sherbourne Street) in 1965. She had the choice of either the Health Records or Pathology department and despite knowing very little about pathology, it stood out to Berit as an interesting field – and like that the decision was made.

“I had no idea what I was getting into. It was all new to me,” says Berit.

But it wasn’t long after joining that she DSC03450found
herself in the surgical pathology lab and pathologists’ offices taking dictations, or in the autopsy suite jotting down notes. She says it could get pretty hectic then with as many as four autopsies happening at a time. But nevertheless, through regular transcribing and taking notes Berit started building an understanding around the terminology and different diseases seen in patients.


Occupational Health and Safety?

“It was amazing some of the things you used to see,” Berit says referring to the more lenient regulations that used to exist in the hospital.

She mentions cigarette machines being in the hallways and staff smoking in the labs while handling specimens. Arguably most shocking however, was the location of the autopsy suite – in the basement directly across from the cafeteria kitchen.

“I really enjoyed the level of involvement though,” Berit says reassuringly. “At the beginning there were some times where you experience a bit of shock, but after a while you start looking at things differently. Eventually an autopsy or a specimen grossing is just a normal part of your day.”


The big differencesDSC03328

When Berit started at Princess Margaret the Bloor – Danforth subway was just being built, patient reports were hand delivered, and desks had typewriters on them instead of computers.

With those details in mind we asked Berit what the three most significant changes are from when she first started with Princess Margaret to where UHN is now.


  1. Institution size

When Berit started, the laboratory program offered services to just Princess Margaret and Wellesley Hospital, and now LMP serves all of UHN’s main sites as well as various partner hospitals in Ontario. Berit says the lab program had just 6 pathologists when she started and now there are well over 30 – all with specific subspecialties.

  1. Technology

“Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how we did it,” says Berit of how far technology has come since she first started in the lab. Messages used to be sent by departmental mail, sometimes taking a day to be delivered. Patient records would need to be ordered and all the patient information was laid out on lengthy charts. It really makes you appreciate the Electronic Patient Record, or the hands free dictation systems used in grossing rooms now – not to mention just the use of a computer for typing and email.

  1. Diversity

The diversity of the program might not be top of mind for everyone, but Berit points out how far the program has come since she started. “I love the global atmosphere the program has taken on,” says Berit. “Staff come from all around the world now. It makes the environment more whole and gives you the opportunity to learn about different cultures at work.”DSC03114

  1. A small bonus detail

Berit added that the Toronto Maple Leafs were having success when she joined UHN, with their most recent Stanley Cup victory happening in her third year with the labs… A reminder many Leaf fans could probably do without.



Featuring Berit Cameron and Marie Wilson, late 1960’s/ early 1970’s

Berit has been able to see a lot of change over her years at UHN; from watching Princess Margaret become an internationally renowned cancer center, to welcoming former UHN CEO Bob Bell to the laboratory as a young resident. She continues to be a vibrant part of UHN as the administrative assistant to LMP’s GI and liver pathologists, and the program as whole wishes her sincere congratulations on 50 years of incredible service.



BUSY Lab: Riding motorcycles with Kenny

July 15, 2016

BUSY Lab- Kenny

This week the BUSY Lab connected with LMP Financial Analyst, Kenny Chieu to learn a bit about what he does to take a break from the BUSY and shape his personal health and wellness. The theme: Riding motorcycles.

Kenny says it all started when he rented a scooter while vacationing in Taiwan. He was 21 at the time, cruising up and down the coast, taking in beautiful scenery and a rich ocean breeze. The picturesque experience naturally left a void when Kenny arrived back in Canada – so it wasn’t long before he started looking into riding a motorcycle.

“Most Saturday or Sunday mornings I’ll wake up and just go out for a morning ride,” says Kenny. “That’s the relaxation/wellness piece – it’s just me and the road.”

Before being able to get on a bike and start riding, Kenny had to get his motorcycle license and learn the basic skills of operating a motorcycle. He did a bit of research and enrolled in a course that pairs in-class theory and on-bike riding.

Kenny says the course was straightforward and covered pretty much everything you need to know to be able to ride. From learning how to turn a motorcycle on, to actually maneuvering it, Kenny was able to get some valuable experience on a bike and ended up passing his final test to get his license.

Now riding a motorcycle is a lot of things for Kenny. It’s a mode of transportation, it’s a way to explore, and it’s just fun to do.

“It’s caused me to become much more patient on the road,” he says. “I used to always get frustrated with traffic, but now I’m just relaxed – even when I’m in a car.”

Kenny rides into work for the better part of the year too, so it’s not really a hobby that’s difficult to make time for. On the other hand, it seems to be a hobby that makes time for other things, like enjoying nature. Kenny will sometimes make small day trips to go hiking, or he’ll even just keep riding until he finds a scenic road or gets lost.

I’m sure there are probably a few LMP staff who have thought about riding a motorcycle, so if you’re one of them or have been on the fence for a while, hopefully this is the motivation you need. Kenny suggests investing in doing a course first to make sure it’s something you enjoy, or, if riding a full motorcycle seems daunting at first, maybe try a scooter or moped rental to see if you’re comfortable with that.

Kenny says, “Sure, it’s dangerous – but if you’re smart, not reckless, and in control, you shouldn’t have any problems!”

If you’re interested in learning more about riding a motorcycle, see what the Ontario requirements are HERE, or click HERE to check out possible courses at the Rider Training Institute.


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”)?

              Kenny might go for a long ride on his motorcycle.  What would YOU do?

The BUSY Lab

Check in next week as we hear from another LMP staff member about their BUSY activity.  We hope these stories may remind you about your BUSY thing, or even inspire you to try something new!


BUSY Lab: Gaelic Football with Martin

July 8, 2016


This week the BUSY Lab connected with LMP Pathologists’  Assistant, Martin Grealish to learn a bit about what he does to meet new people, let off some steam, and shape his personal health and wellness. The theme: Gaelic football.

“We obviously play with an agenda to win, but it’s about more than that,” says Martin. “The team really supports each other and the family atmosphere is carried off the field into everyday life.”

Martin’s family has always been passionate about Gaelic football. They had Martin playing at just five years old, and at eight, Martin moved with his family from Canada to Ireland, getting the opportunity to take up the sport where it was founded.

As most LMP staff probably aren’t familiar with Gaelic football it’s a sport that dates back to 1885 and combines the skills of soccer and rugby to create a high scoring, fast paced game. Click HERE to watch a brief video outlining the rules.

Martin describes the perks of playing Gaelic football like those of many team sports: You get to know your local community, develop close bonds and friendships, participate in regular physical activity, and learn valuable leadership skills useful on and off the field.

By joining Gaelic football clubs, Martin has been able to reap all the benefits team sports have to offer, and when he moved back to Canada at 19 he continued to embrace the game and joined Toronto’s St. Vincent’s Football Club.

“I recently retired from playing, but I’m still active with the club,” says Martin. “I’m now more on the management side, helping with the team selection and fundraising. It’s definitely a sport for younger men and women, but it’s great being able to stay involved supporting the club and the community.”

Martin shared a story about the family aspect of the club, and talked about a kid in his twenties joining St. Vincent’s while visiting from Ireland.

The team would regularly help newcomers find steady work, and in this case a teammate’s father offered a job doing renovation and construction. Things were going fine for a while, but eventually their new teammate stopped showing up for work.

Martin and some others went to his house to make sure everything was alright and when they got there they found him just lying around as though he took the day off. Surprised, they questioned him on where he’s been and what he’s been doing, but all they got in response was that sometimes it’s just hard to get out of bed.

As Martin and the senior teammates were about to give some tough love explaining responsibilities and the significance of working for a teammate’s father, the young Irish kid clarified a bit saying that some days it was actually just a real struggle to move himself and get out of bed because he has multiple sclerosis.

The focus of the conversation immediately changed to how the team could help.

Martin and other teammates made arrangements so the kid could keep his job and come into work when he was feeling able to. They also checked on him regularly, making sure things were going okay and offering him any help he needed.

It wasn’t long until their new teammate had to go back to Ireland to be with his family, but while he was in Canada St. Vincent’s football club took on that role – even if only for a short while.

“When you play on a team like this you end up meeting all different kinds of people,” says Martin. “And because you all support each other on the field, you’re naturally there for each other off of it.”

Gaelic football may not be for everyone, but if you’re interested in learning more – check out Toronto’s Gaelic Athletic Association HERE.


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”)?

               Martin might help out St. Vincent’s Football Club.  What would YOU do?

The BUSY Lab

Check in next week as we hear from another LMP staff member about their BUSY activity.  We hope these stories may remind you about your BUSY thing, or even inspire you to try something new!

The Blood Lab’s commitment to patient experience

June 24, 2016



Each day hundreds of patients have their blood drawn and sent in for analysis at UHN’s Blood Lab Collection Centres. It’s often a place where patients begin their hospital journey, and as a result LMP Blood Lab staff have an important role to play in setting the tone for patient experience.

“As a first point of contact, patients will come to blood lab staff with all sorts of questions,” says Maria Amenta, LMP site lead, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and manager, specimen management. “We want to be able to provide them with answers, and direct them to tools and services that will make their hospital visit as seamless as possible.”



One of the most recent initiatives undertaken by the Blood Lab at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre focuses on the completion of the Distress Assessment and Response Tool (DART), which provides increased detection and early intervention for distress in out-patients at Princess Margaret.

Patients start by self-assessing their level of distress on provided DART iPads. That information is then sent to the patient’s ambulatory care clinic, where clinic staff assess the information. Depending on the level of distress (low, moderate, high) different support options may be provided, including nurse and oncologist intervention for high distress patients.

DSC03211The DART program started in the Princess Margaret Blood Lab as a pilot project in mid-January, and Blood Lab staff were looked to for help in educating and assisting patients in the completion of distress assessments.

There were obvious concerns to consider, such as additional workload, and the possible impact on patient flow and wait times, but over the course of the pilot it became clear the Blood Lab team fully supported the initiative.

“I think staff see the impact the DART program can have on patients,” says Maria. “Our phlebotomist jumped on board as members of the patient care team, and I think the effort stems from just wanting to help patients get the care they need.”

The pilot was quickly determined a success and the DART program became fully integrated into the Princess Margaret blood lab in February. Since then, DART assessments in the blood lab have had a steady increase in completion, with 101 DART assessments completed in February, 126 in March, and 181 in April.

“Thanks to the great level of engagement of the blood collection team, and our ambulatory PFCs we have consistently seen improvements in the number of DART assessments completed,” says Terri Stuart-McEwan, Executive Director, Princess Margaret. She credits much of the project’s success due to staff engagement and points to an “exceptional level of teamwork and true commitment to improving the patient experience.”

There are now three iPads available for patients as they wait for blood collection, and both patients and staff have become increasingly familiar with DART assessments making the process seamless.


Patient Rapport

The high uptake of the DART program in the Blood Lab is partly due to the volume of patients seen daily – but it’s also largely due to the connections staff are able to make.

Even when seeing 100 plus patients in a week, blood lab staff are often able to develop bonds with patients as individuals, and begin to know them on a personal level.

It’s one of the few areas of LMP where staff work and engage with patients directly and it requires a certain understanding, patience and care to build the relationships sometimes seen between repeat patients and technicians.

“Having one’s blood collected can be a very personal experience,” says Maria. “As a patient, you want to feel comfortable and relaxed – so having trust in your phlebotomist is important.”

“We’ll sometimes see repeat patients request their phlebotomist by name, or even give up their place in line to wait for someone they’ve developed a relationship with. It’s a great thing to see, and really speaks to the connections built in the Blood Lab.”




Maria Amenta and Patsy Raymond, congratulate Myrna Galvey (centre) on being recognized as a DART Star.

One staff member who sees nearly every patient in the Princess Margaret Blood Lab is Myrna Galvey, Blood Lab receptionist. She has played an integral part in the DART programs success so far and was recognized this week for her contributions in the third annual DART Star Recognition Program.

Myrna was nominated by her peers in the Blood Lab and was selected as a DART Star winner based on her leadership, teamwork, and ability to use DART to provide exemplary patient experiences.

“Encouraging patients to complete DART just makes sense,” says Myrna. “Asking patients how they feel and directing them to the DART iPads can get them the help they need faster.”

“It’s not all just about about drawing blood in the blood lab. We have to manage patient questions and help get them answers.”

Apple Trees in LMP…

June 17, 2016

apple tree logo


For a program as large and busy as LMP, it can be challenging for staff to find opportunities to meaningfully recognize their peers. With rotating shifts, altered schedules, and various absences – even those who put extra effort into saying thanks might not get the chance to.

The issue became a focus for LMP’s Pow-Lee Cheng and Ivana Vidovic, Core Laboratory charge technologists, and Jay Hockley, Specimen Management supervisor – who after attending last year’s Toronto General Hospital Goals and Objectives Retreat became inspired by the power of peer-to-peer recognition.

“We don’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” says Pow-Lee, “and we should.  Recognizing your peers for even the small gestures they make can mean a big deal – even if it’s just an everyday task like putting paper in the printer.”

The proposed system for capturing peer recognition was inspired by another UHN unit, and consists of two components: a tree mural and an assortment of apple shaped sticky notes. When someone in the lab wants to recognize someone for a favor, an exceptional performance, or just a simple act of kindness they write a message on one of the notes and post it to the tree.

Not the complex system you’d expect from a modern clinical laboratory, but effective in allowing simple gestures to be formally recognized.

Pow Lee, Ivana and Jay brought the idea up at lab meetings to gauge interest and support, and then took a step back, leaving the initiative to be led by staff.

“We just planted the seed,” Pow Lee says, tongue-in-cheek.“ Once it was introduced, staff throughout the lab definitely made it their own.”

There were various levels of support including those skeptical of the significance of the messages, or the maturity of the apple/tree practice, but there were also those who took the challenge of encouraging peer recognition upon themselves. Core Laboratory technologists, Laura Schurman, Meriam Ghorbanian, Dipti Doshi, and Arti Patel were the latter, and became ambassadors of the initiative ultimately bringing the idea to life.

“There are times that we can feel as if we are running around like headless chickens trying to keep the lab running smoothly – and having someone notice and say something about our efforts is very encouraging,” says Laura. “I was happy to help with setting up the thank you tree, and felt that having a place in the lab used just to provide that acknowledgement could help make the lab environment more positive.”

Like an ordinary tree, it took some time before the core lab saw any significant growth, but now, after six months it’s proven to be a complete success.

“Staff have really engaged each other and embraced the tree!” says Pow Lee. “Being able to get that recognition and acknowledgement just makes people feel good. It’s definitely enhanced the relationships among co-workers in the lab and impacts how we come together to work as a team.”

The Core Lab’s peer recognition tree has now become a shining example of teamwork and comradery for LMP. What started off as a small staff initiative has grown program wide – with plans for 10 more trees, across five different sites.

So when the time comes – post an apple and see how your tree grows!


Check out TGH Core Lab’s apple tree in the photos below:



Read more…


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