Managing Your Bench Workload while Teaching

Learning how to integrate teaching into your daily workflow helps foster a successful learning environment

As working lab professionals, we have a responsibility to provide high quality education and coaching to students—the next generation of medical laboratory professionals. This can be difficult while managing a full workload amid a workforce shortage and a pandemic.

One of the easiest ways to manage your bench while teaching a student is to integrate their learning into your workflow. Start by reframing your key tasks as learning objectives. Then, demonstrate each task before letting the student perform it under supervision. Remember to leave time for any follow-up questions they may have. 

For example, if the first part of your day is performing quality control (QC), show them where to get reagents, how to run the QC reagents on the analyzer, and the expected values. Then, the next time, they can perform the QC under your supervision. After they’ve done it a few times, ask them questions about troubleshooting such as, “What are our next steps if this reagent is out of range?” By bringing the student into the workflow, you can avoid going out of your way to teach students while potentially reducing some of your workload. 

However, there may be days when your workload is too heavy to watch a student slowly pipette while your pending queue builds up. There are a few different ways to stay on top of the workload and still allow the student to learn. 

The first approach would be to delegate basic tasks you’re confident the student can perform. This provides the student with some autonomy, allowing them to reinforce technical skills and become more comfortable working in a lab environment. If the student is too new or not yet comfortable with the bench, try to delegate some of your workload to other colleagues. This way, you won’t feel rushed and can spend the appropriate amount of time working with the student. 

If the lab is short-staffed or there are other reasons you can’t teach the student, the first step is to explain the situation. This will help the student feel included, and they’ll be more understanding toward the situation. If your lab has access to continuing education resources, such as past webinars, previous validations, or quality assurance documents, this is a great time to show them how lab professionals keep up their knowledge and skills. As a whole, if your lab accepts students, then learning should always be accessible to them. 

Finally, as a preceptor, remember to be patient and understanding of a student’s progress during their rotation. They’re learning some of these skills for the first time, so they will be slow, and they will make mistakes. Allow students to practice low acuity tasks or QC samples before having them work with high acuity or irretrievable specimens. When a mistake does happen, identify it, correct it, and encourage them to try again. Engaging with students, as well as being open and fallible, can improve the preceptor–student dynamic and help you both feel more comfortable in this fast-paced learning environment.

Preceptorship can be challenging to manage in such a dynamic environment. But it can also be rewarding to watch a student gain confidence in themselves and their skills in a short period of time. Using these methods, you’ll soon learn to love teaching and preceptorship.

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Alexander Fernandes, MLT, BSc

Alexander Fernandes, MLT, BSc, works as a medical laboratory technologist in the tissue typing and DNA laboratory at the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA) in Ottawa, Canada. He is also the student coordinator for medical laboratory science students completing their clinical placement at EORLA.