Laboratory culture
A member of a shrinking profession studies what ails us

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 12/97) - Diana Tonner might needle you a little or wire you for sound. She'll even incubate your pathogens, cute little devils that they are.

On rare occasions Tonner will even get involved in paternity suits, taking fingerprints, photos and blood samples for DNA tests.

It can be fascinating work and there's more than a few aspiring medical laboratory technicians who'd love to follow in Tonner's footsteps.

But machines have replaced people in the field to such an extent that some colleges across Canada have shut down their medical laboratory science programs.

Despite the machines, you can rest assured that when you come to Tonner, you'll be more than just a number or an anonymous specimen in a impersonal laboratory where the technicians see you as nothing more than a relative of something growing in a petri dish.

For Tonner operates Dr. George Gibson's lab, the only such private facility in the territory. Not only does she collect the samples from you, she studies them to determine what ails you, or what doesn't.

She employs the tools of microbiology and hematology and studies urine cultures and electrocardiograms, which show the rhythm of the heart.

Many others in Tonner's profession are in her position, towards the end of their careers. She's been at it since 1964.

With the reduced staffing requirements of the profession, Tonner says she expects there will be a shortage of trained people some day, but not necessarily because of automation.

As the lab is in the heart of the downtown on 47th Street, it stays open mainly for the convenience of people who can't get to the hospital for tests.

All medical clinics in Yellowknife send their medical samples to Tonner. Three times a week she sends specimens to Edmonton for tests that she can't conduct herself.