CLMA chats with Milly Keeler, BSMT (ASCP), CLC (AMT), CCCP, of Keeler Laboratory consulting to learn more about how she came to start own business, her role as a SIG director and her involvement with the COVID-19 resource community.
CLMA: How did you get your start in the field of laboratory medicine and start your own company?
Well, way back 20 some years ago, when I was thinking about college, I actually thought about being a doctor. But I was like, well, I want to have a family, so that's just not going to be a good balance for me. I didn't want to go into nursing, because everybody was in nursing. So, I basically looked at the college catalog for degrees, and Med Tech was listed there. It included a lot of chemistry and biology and healthcare, so that fit all those pieces for me. That's where I got started.
I remember in one of my organic chemistry classes, there was an MLT getting her Med Tech degree, and she asked me if I was sure I wanted to be a Med Tech. She said, “Nobody knows what we do are underpaid. We're understaffed, we have to work weekends and nights.” And, you know, and I heard her, but I didn't get what she was saying, until I was in the hospital for nine years and worked every shift seven days a week, 365 days a year and always had to be on call.
Laboratory Medicine has been a challenge, but it's also been very rewarding. There are so many things that are constantly changing and evolving; the technology is incredible. There are so many good people in the lab world. It's been a really good fit for me. After I spent nine years at the hospital, I realized that schedule wasn’t going to change, so I had to change. I was actually thinking about going back and getting my PharmD degree. Then, my husband found this job in New York that I ended up taking. It was a microbiology lab, but it was actually in the food science space. I actually did testing for the OH157:H7 and also tested for salmonella and listeria. I did PCR testing, and I took a graduate course in Kansas State University international rapid methods in microbiology. That was a great experience. I just learned so much in this position.
After I did that for a couple of years, I felt like I needed to go back into healthcare; that was a better fit for of the me. Then I took on a position as Director of Lab Services, and it was a multi- specialty physician office practice. This was another stepping stone for me where I had to learn all regulations, and the management side of things. When you're testing personnel, you have to cover chemistry, blood bank, hematology, microbiology, etc. You learn all of the instruments, and the methodology and the microscope work. But, when you're a lab manager, you have all the compliance and the regulatory and the leadership aspects, scheduling, financials and budgeting. That was a whole other aspect to learn. It seemed overwhelming, but it was also challenging, and I really enjoyed that.
Then, I was at a conference where I learned a lot of the CLIA regulations. I had a physician there that I met, and we just seemed to hit it off. We just happened to sit next to each other, and she was opening a lab in Seattle, Washington. She was feeling overwhelmed with all of the regulations and all that was required. I said, “I know what you're feeling, I've been there. You can do this just take one day at a time.” So, she was my first consulting job. We did everything remote, which was crazy. But, I worked with our architect to design her lab and did her policies and procedure manuals and helped to pick out her test systems and such based on her patient population. So, that really was my first step into consulting and for a while I just did that on the side.
I was so busy, because I had a high complexity lab and then my 13 satellite point of care labs, so that was enough. I couldn't do any more. But then we had management changes where I was working, and so they let a lot of mid-level managers go, and I was one of them. That was a tough transition for me, because I wasn't sure where to go from there. I just had people that were calling to consult.
Then I started with DoctorsManagement and doing consulting for them. I realized the skills that I had as a lab professional were beneficial to others, and I could share that knowledge. I had started my company, it’s going on nine years already, which is crazy, and have been consulting full-time, between 5 and 7 years. I love it, because I love to see somebody come to me and say they want to start a lab and they have no idea what the regulations are and what's involved technically to build that out. So I can help them go from that point zero to a lab up and running and passing the first inspection with no deficiencies. There's a lot of satisfaction in that. A lot of education, a lot of training, you know, in such a lot of paperwork. But it's something that I really enjoy.
CLMA: When did you become involved with CLMA? How did you transition into the role of SIG leader and what led you to assuming that position?
When I was trying to run lab services at NPA, I was searching for information and knowledge on how to be a better leader and how to be better with my laboratory, specifically keeping up with the regulations and changes. We had Western PA chapter of CLMA that was in Pittsburgh, so I would go to their spring conferences every year. I would attend and learn things, The networking was a great. It's just so good when you have other people that know exactly what you're going through.
Then I became involved with the board for the Western PA chapter. That's a great team of people. I've been involved with that for many years now. Then I started getting more involved at the national level. I went to some of the conferences and started getting to know people. I've just had such great opportunities to learn from some of the other great people I've met through CLMA. To me, it's been so valuable. I try to get more people involved and let them know the opportunities that are there, because, we learn so much from each other; we have so much to share. Everybody has different experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge is we have different things that we bring on our lab journey.
I think I was asked to be involved with the SIGs. Someone asked if I would be willing to assist with that. I said yes, again, because I love to learn and I like to be challenged. I like to meet other people and work with other people, too, and just help others on their lab journey.
CLMA: What drove you to become so involved with the COVID resource community?
Again, there's just so much information with this pandemic and so much was hitting labs. It was a lot to stay on top of for lab personnel, above and beyond their other duties. We've had staffing shortages for a while now and decreases in reimbursement, so it's really been a challenge in the laboratory. I just wanted to help try to put this information out and try to help people wherever we could. Now we're not having to go to 50 different resources to get the information that could be in one place. That resource was easily accessible for lab managers, and just to be able to ask questions and share that knowledge and information.
CLMA: How does the resource community function?
There are a bunch of different resources that are on there. People post in a forum and sometimes they'll ask a question. A lot of people share information resources, and this was helpful. We would put it in different files to try to organize it so people could find what they were looking for easily. We were just trying to make that information accessible and easy to locate when people needed it. And, just to keep people aware of when new things we were changing, especially at the beginning, we were putting out a lot of day to day updates as things evolved and just getting that information out to labs.
CLMA: Why is it important for CLMA members to take advantage of this resource?
We have so much to learn from each other; there's just there's just not enough time in the day. Nobody knows everything. The more we can learn from each other and share that information, we can just be better laboratorians. We can have better testing and better outcomes for our patients. At the end of the day, that's really what matters. It's being able to take care of our family, our friends, our community impact patient care in a positive way. So, how do we make sure that we're putting out accurate, precise results in a timely manner? It's by continuously learning.
Milly serves as a Laboratory Technical Consultant for DoctorsManagement Clients and with clients through her company, Keeler Laboratory Consulting. Milly brings over 25 years of extensive knowledge and experience in multiple disciplines of laboratory testing having worked in a variety of healthcare settings including hospital, physician offices, urgent care facilities, and food service microbiology laboratories. Using her technical and operational expertise she specializes in working with laboratories to help them establish and perform laboratory testing that enhances the quality of patient care. She and is passionate about laboratory testing and how it is a key contributor to improving patient outcomes.