When a Mistake Could Cost a Life

When interviewing Dr. Denise Toney, I was surprised to hear her commentary on the organizational structure at her place of work. Dr. Denise Toney is the Director of the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services for the Virginia State Labs. Much of the work they do has direct implications for public health in Virginia. This meaning that the attitudes of the work environment are very serious. As she put it “mistakes have consequences, mistakes impact lives” and “due to the nature of the work being done, there is a lot of stress that goes with that.” As a result, the attitude of many is somewhat of a “work hard, play hard.” Recently, about two years ago as a part of a strategic plan, they instituted a culture committee to focus on scheduling events that allow for health interactions amongst coworkers outside of the lab environment. Dr. Toney said that this led to social events, community service events, director coffees and aided in developing a sense of family. As the primary leader in her work environment, Dr. Toney must actively work towards developing this type of environment and ensuring that she is just as active of a team member as everyone who reports to her. She has a set of checks and balances in order to ensure that if she is not available, somebody is. She has a right-hand man, the deputy director who manages the day to day, under her are 3 directors of operations, under them is managers, and finally under them are the groups that do testing. Due to this organization, no matter what if someone begins to feel the stress of the environment they always have someone to turn to. Another aspect of this environment is the adaptation it requires from the transition between graduate research to government research. For Dr. Toney, she said she could still remember the biggest mistake she made because of the potential detriment it had. Thankfully, it was caught before it moved to the next stage, but she still remembers it. I think this fact is indicative of how high stakes it is for those working in the lab. It helps to illustrate why it is necessary to have the checks and balances they have in place and why they value social events so highly. It is necessary for maintaining a healthy work environment.

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