Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear lab coats.
Kelley Benson, 53, is a medical laboratory scientist at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The Southaven native has lived in Mississippi 50 years.
Benson graduated from the University of Tennessee and has used her degree to make a difference in the world. She has worked at Le Bonheur for nine years and has been a medical laboratory scientist for 29.
“Our primary role is to be medical detectives,” Benson said. “We do this by performing laboratory tests that the doctor can use in diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases.”
Benson is also a point of care coordinator. “I oversee all of the RNs, respiratory therapists, EDTs, perfusionists, anesthesiologists, and CRNAs on all tests that are performed at the bedside,” she said.
This involves approximately 1,100 associates that have initial training. Then they are reevaluated on an annual basis to insure they know how to perform the test accurately.
“I have to complete knowledge of all the state and federal regulations for the test to be performed and (know) that all associates are following these guidelines,” Benson said. “When an inspector comes to inspect the hospital, I will have to show them how we comply with each of the approximate 300 regulations.”
Benson said they also have 125 instruments that are used for bedside testing that she maintains, troubleshoots and fixes if they are broken.
“Approximately 170,000 tests are run at the bedside annually by the RNs, respiratory therapists, EDTs perfusionists, anesthesiologists, and CRNAs,” she said. “There is usually one point of care coordinator at each facility to oversee this program.”
When Benson was younger, she wanted to be a hairstylist and attended beauty school. About a year and a half in, she decided it wasn’t for her.
“I loved watching The Young and Restless, and Ashley was working in a lab making perfume for their (Jabot) makeup line,” Benson said, “and I thought that looked cool. Looking into it, the best way was to go to medical laboratory science school. Then, I could work for a hospital or an industrial lab. So, the adventure began.”
She had little to no experience in chemistry and knew spots were limited at the University of Tennessee. She buckled down and started studying.
Eventually, her hard work and dedication paid off, and she was one of 20 out 200 applicants accepted into the program. “It taught me that you can do anything you put your mind to,” she adds.
Although, she is the superhero of this story, she is inspired by her patients.
“When I see their faces, and they are not feeling well, it makes me want to be the best that I can be at my job, so that the doctors can figure out what is making them sick and how to treat them so they can get home to their families as quick as possible.”
Kaesha Koons said she has loved working with Benson for three years.
“She is the best teacher,” Koons said. “She helped guide me in a direction professionally that I would have never went on my own. With her guidance, point of care became something that I loved.”
Benson has touched lives and saves them daily. Throughout her career as a medical laboratory scientist, she has been in the field almost three decades and has seen it change over time.
Benson said her career has taught her, above all else, to have patience and love for others, and to never be afraid to speak up. Her advice to anyone thinking about pursuing this field is to stay curious and try everything before scratching it off of the list.
“I would strongly encourage students not to take the easy classes to just get by,” she said. “But to take the hard classes and the hard teachers, because you never know where your life’s journey will take you, and most of the time, it will take you to places where the easy road doesn’t cut it.”