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Outside the Lab Profession

Get to the Yes

Credit: BioBridge Global

Throughout my career, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded with smart, motivated, and innovative people. Personal development is important, but, in my experience, true collaboration is the catalyst of transformative change. I cannot count the number of times I have seen the power of a truly well-oiled and motivated group to innovate and implement a solution that everyone else thought was impossible. Here’s just one example: in 2020, our organization was approached by a local philanthropist to quickly start up a high-throughput COVID-19 testing lab to screen school-aged children every one to two weeks to allow students to get back to school safely. This philanthropist had approached other organizations – including universities, public health departments, and for-profit laboratories – and was told by all that this wasn’t possible.

My team at BioBridge Global took on the challenge, understanding that parents were losing jobs because they had to stay home with their children, along with the inherent psychological and technical issues surrounding remote learning, especially in low-income school districts. We got the lab up and running within two months and, at the peak of production, were testing over 15,000 samples a day, serving grade school through college-age institutions from the entire South Texas region. This program truly supported our community, and school districts were able to safely return students to in-person learning and fulfill their educational mission.  

But did the testing allow for more in-person learning? And did in-person learning affect results? Let’s look at the case of Somerset ISD  –  the first school district to partner with us to implement mass screening of students, faculty, and staff. With this approach, they were able to increase in-person attendance from 38 percent to 83 percent. In addition, students exceeded most local district passing rates in their State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) assessments for reading and math skills. They even beat statewide averages in many cases! “The gains in academic performance are especially notable because 88 percent of the district’s students are Hispanic and 85 percent are economically disadvantaged,” explained Somerset ISD Superintendent, Saul Hinojosa, in a news article (1). “The proof is in the results. When a kid is in school, it doesn’t matter where they come from; they can learn and they can beat the odds.”

The power of a group of motivated people viewing the problem through the lens of “how do we get to a yes” is central to how we accomplished this challenge. What’s more, the response from the school community was inspiring and made all the hard work worth it.

Always a challenge, always a solution

Among the other biggest challenges of my career was the decline in blood donations over the past several years. Before COVID-19, a large portion of blood donations were from high school and college students; once COVID-19 began, we were no longer allowed on campus. When campuses re-opened a few years later, we had to find new ways to engage this population because those currently eligible had not had the benefit of seeing their predecessors successfully donate. 

Our GenGive Program aimed to re-engage our high school and college students with the selfless act of giving blood to save lives while providing educators an opportunity to raise funds for their schools. GenGive was reimagined to incentivize high school administrations to resume hosting on-campus blood drives by providing them with a fund-raising opportunity through successful collections.  Schools earn higher fund-raising rewards as they go up the collection-rate tiers. Extra rewards are earned for hosting more frequent blood drives and during critical need times of the year. Since starting this program, our 2023 high school donations are 46 percent more than during the COVID-19 pandemic – that equates to 4,544 additional blood donations. It has also inculcated donation as part of the high school experience to create a civically engaged generation of givers.

When asked why I continue to tackle challenges, my answer is always the patient at the end of the road who needs the blood product. My blood center serves over 100 hospitals and clinics throughout the South Texas area, which covers over 26,000 square miles and encompasses over 2.4 million residents. No matter how hard the situation becomes, you must be able to persevere and know that there are patients in need, every day, every minute, and they are counting on you to not only endure the challenge, but to overcome the obstacles and succeed. 

Some well-earned wisdom

Never let yourself default to “no.” Challenge yourself to think through a problem creatively and try to get to “yes.” Even if you end up at a “no” or if a “yes” answer ends up not being practical or feasible, that’s fine. What is most important is having the mindset of not allowing obstacles to stop you – that mindset takes practice, practice, and more practice. The same mindset is also essential in a group dynamic; you need to allow and encourage your groups to seek the “yes” rather than defaulting to a “no.” 

Always know your value. If you don’t see value in yourself or what you have to offer, it’s much less likely that others will see it. Getting there isn’t always an easy task because you must be brutally honest with yourself and determine where you truly add value. Once you know your strengths, capitalize on them, and surround yourself with others who bring in complementary skills so that you can best position yourself and your team for success.

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About the Author
Rachel Beddard

Chief Medical Officer, BioBridge Global

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