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 found
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 differences
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.
- 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.
“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.
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.”
- 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.
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.