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Beyond samples

Scientist finds ways to connect with patients

As she works in the lab analyzing blood or bodily fluids, Patty Cates pictures the patients she encountered in her early training or while working as a phlebotomist. It reminds her that there are real people behind the tests she is doing; and though she will never meet them, she is forming a connection, playing a role on their healthcare team.



Patty Cates“The patients may not know how I’m affecting
them, but I am. And I understand that what I do
is really important to a patient’s treatment.”

— Patty Cates, clinical lab scientist

“Even though we don’t directly see the patients we’re helping, we know we are helping them and we’re all very conscious of that,” says Cates, a clinical laboratory scientist who has worked in Community Hospital’s Laboratory Services department for 18 years. “The patients may not know how I’m affecting them, but I am. And I understand that what I do is really important to a patient’s treatment.”

Cates has a bachelor’s degree in biology from CSU Humboldt and graduated from the clinical laboratory science program at San Jose State university.

“Biology, science, and math were the fun and easy classes for me in school,” Cates says.

She works in four different areas of Laboratory Services — hematology, chemistry, microbiology, and the transfusion service.

“In hematology,” she says, “we look at people’s blood cells through a microscope for abnormalities, which can indicate anemia, infection, or disease.

“In chemistry, we study the chemistry of blood to determine things like hormone levels or kidney and liver function, or to see if the patient has had a heart attack. There are literally hundreds of tests.”

In microbiology, Cates reads tests to see what is making a patient sick. “I really love microbiology because it is, to me, the most hands-on part; I actually see color and chemical reactions,” she says. “I am looking at bacteria under a microscope, where I can distinguish bacteria by its different colors, shapes, and sizes to help doctors decide what kind of antibiotic to put a patient on to kill the bacteria.”

Working in the transfusion service, Cates cross-matches donated blood for patients who will receive a transfusion. She’s an advocate for donating blood and says it gives the public an opportunity to help patients behind the scenes, just as the lab does.

“If people would like to donate,” she says, “they, too, can help patients without ever even meeting them, then enjoy some carrot cake, too.”

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