For patients coming to UMass Memorial Medical Center, one of the scariest parts of their visit is waiting to learn what’s wrong with them. Identifying the cause of an illness and whether – and how – it can be treated are haunting questions.
The answer to those questions comes from of a team of trained experts, and it begins with people like Jackie Rodriguez, a grossing technician for the hospital system, affiliated with the University of Massachusetts medical school.
Rodriguez, a member of Local 3900 and a winner of a Never Quit Service Award, works in the Pathology Department. Rodriquez’s job is to prepare, measure and catalog human tissue samples so that her co-workers can examine and study those specimens to make precise, accurate diagnoses. The tissue samples she helps generate are the keys to prescribing the right treatment for patients.
It’s a job that requires incredible attention to detail, patience and in many cases, speed. Often, tissue samples come to Rodriguez from patients who are in surgery, and a quick diagnostic turnaround requires steady hands and a calm presence.
“Without pathology,” says Rodriquez, “there is no diagnosis.”
Though she doesn’t see patients face-to-face, Rodriguez says, “We’re the heart of medical care.”
Rodriguez acquired her many skills as a grossing technician over her 19-year career at UMass, an unlikely career that began as a seasonal temporary administrative assistant for the Cytology Unit within the larger Pathology Department.
She remained there for two years and then transferred to what is known as the surgical grossing room within the Pathology Department. She continued doing administrative work, but her willingness to help out no matter how chaotic things got led to her becoming an indispensable teammate. Thanks to the faith and encouragement of a former department director, Dr. Bruce Woda, Rodriguez moved up, working and training in many parts of the department. For the past five years, she’s held the position of grossing technician.
Despite the sometimes frenzied pace of her work life, Rodriguez wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have to stay connected to helping people. That’s where I find joy. If I’m not helping, I’m not happy,” she says.
Her endless flexibility within her department – whether it’s answering phones, training new employees or processing countless specimens – seems to require superhuman energy, but even more impressive is the fact throughout her UMass career, she’s raised five children as a single mom, and has also earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree along the way.
“It’s a lot, but this job, and especially my union, AFSCME, have helped me to support my family and have workplace stability so that I was able to grow here,” says Rodriquez.
Rodriguez recently continued her education by earning a certification in project management called Lean Six Sigma that she applied to improving how tissue slides make their way throughout the UMass campus with greater efficiency.
Rodriquez is unwilling to slow down or sit still.
“I still want to grow,” she says.
Know a co-worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to make their community better?
Nominate them for our union’s Never Quit Service Award.