After Nearly Four Decades at JPS, Lab Tech Remembers her Roots

August 15th, 2018

Working as a lab tech at JPS Health Network wasn’t Sheila Thomas’ first job, but it was the job she always wanted.

JPS Lab Tech Sheila Thomas

JPS Lab Tech Sheila Thomas

She started her career in a similar position at St. Joseph’s Hospital which, at the time, was located across Main Street from JPS. Sheila remembers walking across the road during her lunch break to fill out an application … and then the joy of learning she got the job she sought.

“I love what I do,” Thomas said. “I love meeting the patients of all different backgrounds who come here. I think my favorites are the older people who have so many stories to tell. Every day is interesting. JPS seemed like the place for me to be then, and I know it’s the place to be for me now.”

It’s Thomas’ responsibility to draw blood, one of the things patients visiting a hospital dread the most. She knows almost every day of the week she is going to be confronted with people who would rather do just about anything than have an appointment with her. It’s her job to make the best of an uncomfortable situation. The work is as much about customer service as it is about needles and vials. Sometimes patients are scared, sometimes they’re angry. Rarely is she greeted with a smile – but Sheila tries to make sure patients leave with one.

“A lot of my job is making people feel comfortable,” Sheila said. “I talk to them and tell them what I am going to do, so there aren’t any surprises. Then I try to make things go as smoothly and efficiently as possible. If you treat the patients with respect and treat them how you would like to be treated, it usually is pretty easy.”

The goals every phlebotomist aims for are hearing the patient ask “you’re already done?” when the procedure is easier than they expected – and having a returning patient ask for them by name the next time they come back needing blood drawn.

“We have a saying: ‘Get ‘em in, get ‘em drawn and get ‘em gone,” Sheila said with a laugh. “Because that’s what the patients want: to be in an out before they know it, thinking ‘that wasn’t so bad.’”

Thomas said she couldn’t even guess how many patients she has served in her nearly four decades on the job. She said when she started working at JPS there were six techs in the lab who divided about 250 patients between them each day, so that’s about 40 patients a day per team member, or one about every 12 minutes. When the health network began to add clinics across Tarrant County, some people chose to go those locations to get their blood drawn, so the number of people coming to the outpatient clinic in the main hospital fell to about 100 a day divided among four team members, about 25 a day. Based on those rates, roughly, Sheila would have drawn blood from about 300,000 people over 37 years.

Beyond the patients, Sheila said she is humbled to be a part of something bigger than herself. She remembered that she was taught the ropes of her job by a pair of supervisors who each spent more than 35 years working at JPS.

“They told me that we all have a job to do, and it’s important that we take care of our share of the responsibilities to make sure the parents get the care they deserve,” Sheila said. “We don’t need to worry about whatever anyone else is doing. If we make sure our job is done, the pieces will all come together. If everyone doesn’t do their job, it doesn’t work.”

Thomas tries to pass on the things she learned from the people who mentored her to newer teammates. One of her colleagues, lab tech Alfredo Olivo, has only worked at JPS for a few months.

Olivo said he was born at JPS and was a patient at the hospital on a couple of occasions when he was just a kid, so he was grateful to the health network and knew he wanted to find a job there when he joined the working world. He said having Thomas take him under her wing has been fantastic.

“Being the new person is hard sometimes, but she makes it easy,” Olivo said, adding that Sheila has helped him overcome his natural shyness to better connect with patients. “She’s easy to talk to and it helped me to become easier to talk to. I enjoy coming in to work here every day and that’s a great feeling.”

Thomas said she plans to retire in about two years. She’s hoping to be a part of the legacy of JPS long after she’s gone.

“I hope people remember me in the way I think of the people who taught me,” Sheila said. “I had some great teachers here, and that meant a lot to me. I hope I made them proud by sharing what it means to be a part of JPS.”

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