Military Vets & the Lab: An Ideal Match

For some vets transitioning back to civilian life, a clinical lab career can be an attractive option.

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For those men and women that fight for our country in the military, there may come a time after serving overseas to re-enter the civilian workforce and transition to a different career. For some, a career in the clinical laboratory is an attractive option.

One veteran that made this career choice is Wendell Jones, MS, MT(ASCP)SBB, Executive Director of Laboratory Services at LifeShare Blood Centers in Shreveport, Louisiana. A veteran of 20 years in the United States Air Force, his path to the clinical laboratory is an interesting one.

Jones's career started after earning his degree and certification as a medical technologist from Louisiana Tech University. After a brief time at a hospital in Shreveport, Jones found the opportunities to advance in civilian hospital limited. Coming from a military family in which his father was an Air Force pilot, Jones reached out to the Air Force himself to explore options for a military career in medicine.

By June 1985, Jones was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. During his career in the military, he had 6 assignments, 4 of which were in hospitals or medical center laboratories. Jones explains that while in the laboratory, he served as Officer in Charge, which carried responsibilities that did not differ much from a civilian hospital.

During his time in the Air Force, Jones was given the opportunity to earn a Master's Degree in Medical Laboratory Science with an emphasis in Clinical Chemistry from the University of Utah. It was after an assignment at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi where he was introduced to blood banking and realized that he had found his niche in the laboratory world.

The Next Phase

Jones's next phase of his military laboratory career took him to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC where he was accepted into the Armed Forces Blood Bank Fellowship program. This resulted in his certification as a Specialist in Blood Banking.

Blood banking opened doors for Jones and it provided him the opportunity to work on some higher-level projects, such as with the Department of Defense. During the second Gulf War, Jones served as the blood program liaison to the Central Command while he was assigned to the Persian Gulf Region.

Jones monitored blood usage throughout the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters of operation and ensured adequate blood supplies were maintained to support combat operations. Through it all, Jones recognized how unique his position was, stating that experiencing blood operations on such a global level is not something that many blood bankers get to experience.

Making the Transition

As Jones approached his 20 years of service, he decided to make the transition to the civilian world. He credits his military experience in making the seamless transition to his current company, LifeShare Blood Centers. In his first role in 2005, as Center Director of a new blood center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jones quickly used his military readiness training to his advantage. Shortly after starting with the company, Hurricane Katrina devastated the area and Jones' leadership was immediately put to the test.

In 2007, Jones made the move to Shreveport, where he holds his current role as Executive Director. In this role, Jones manages three laboratories, which include an AABB Immunohematology Reference Laboratory (IRL). Jones's laboratories provide identification services for hospitals and other blood centers of complex antibodies. Through an ongoing program of donor screening, according to Jones, the laboratories find compatible blood products for patients with rare antibodies.

Jones says that, provided they have education or background and training in the field, the medical laboratory is a good option for veterans. He notes that most laboratories recognize the leadership and management skills that veteran medical technicians bring with them as they transition from military to civilian life. Jones adds that an applicant with military service on their resume is a significant plus when he himself is looking for new employees.

In regards to mentoring, Jones feels that the success he experienced in the Air Force was a direct result of the mentoring he received throughout his career. His father told him to listen to those with experience, regardless of rank. Mentoring gives Jones the opportunity to give back some of the advantages he was given as a young Air Force Officer that helped make his career a success.

Committed to Success

Jones is a former member of the Society of Armed Forces Medical Laboratory Scientists (SAFMLS). According to its President, Major Marybeth Luna, United States Air Force, SAFMLS is a non-profit professional organization consisting of active and reserve members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, U.S. Public Health Service and the Veterans Administration. There are approximately 500 members that have backgrounds in clinical laboratory medicine, research and development, and laboratory administration.

According to Luna, SAFMLS has shown its ability to direct an ever-changing laboratory environment. She advised that SAFMLS has shown that it can and will continue to innovate and educate its laboratory leaders by revolutionizing combat laboratory medicine and providing top-notch laboratory care to their veterans. With organizations such as SAFMLS and veterans such as Jones as proof, a career in the laboratory is well within reach to those veterans that choose to pursue one.

Steve Eichmann is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, PA.

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