Martha McGee, a 1993 graduate of the Divison of Clinical Laboratory Science, has assumed leadership as director of McLendon Clinical Laboratories, the in-house laboratories for the UNC Medical Center and UNC Health Care. She began her work as director in February, following the retirement of Connie Bishop.
As a high school student, McGee knew she loved science, but she also realized she did not want to pursue a career involving direct patient care. When she found the then-medical technology program offered by the division, she realized she had found her niche. “It seemed like the perfect fit of science and health care,” McGee said. “Small class sizes made a difference.”
During her more than 25-year career with UNC Health Care, McGee has garnered a breadth of experience working in fields of special microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics, among others. She credits a role in laboratory outreach with broadening her network of health care affiliations and her understanding of the breadth of laboratory sites the health care system supports. Most recently, she served as the assistant administrative director of the microbiology and immunology laboratories.
In 2020, the laboratories expect to run 5.5 million tests, ranging from basic bloodwork, including glucose, calcium, and sodium levels, to highly specialized molecular genetic tests. This work often involves cutting-edge technology including compatibility testing for organ and bone marrow transplantation, next-generation sequencing molecular testing, and testing in cytogenetics. McGee said McLendon Laboratories are responsive to needs that stem from clinical care and work alongside other health care providers to meet their most pressing needs.
“I have a lot of wonderful memories, feelings, and a sense of duty to this place,” McGee said. “It’s a true culture of excellence.”
For McGee, her work and oversight of more than 300 laboratory employees centers on patient care. Work in the laboratories is often behind-the-scenes; McGee and her colleagues say they often call their work that of an invisible army, because people do not realize the laboratory work that must take place to ensure quality health care.
“We’re here for the patients, and that’s what it’s about,” McGee said. As a native North Carolinian, she takes pride in the laboratories because she understands their impact on access to high-quality care statewide.
“It is absolutely important to us and to this organization that we are able to maintain care for people who can’t afford it, and that reaches back to the hospital’s founding,” she said. The laboratories are named for William McLendon, MD, the former chair of both the Department of Hospital Laboratories and the Division of Laboratory Medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. He has served generations of laboratory technologists; McGee fondly recalled that before her junior year as an undergraduate student, McLendon took the incoming cohort of students out to lunch to talk about the field of laboratory science. “He would talk to us individually before we started the program,” McGee recalled. “He took the time to meet with us to talk about this profession and how much it meant to patients. It really gave you a wonderful perspective as how important this job can be.”
As director of the laboratories that bear his name, McGee said its employees have a sense of pride in the laboratories and its legacy. “I feel a huge obligation to carry that on and make sure we can do the best we can for the patients and for the hospitals.”
Over the span of decades, McLendon Laboratories have recruited and mentored students and alumni from the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science. Often, alumni from the undergraduate program in clinical laboratory science and the master’s in molecular diagnostic science are recruited to work in the labs. McGee credits the laboratories’ legacy and reputation with their recruitment efforts in a competitive market.
“When students rotate through our laboratories, we develop relationships with them,” McGee said. “We will always find a place for our graduates if at all possible. The graduates of this program are absolutely stellar.” McGee said she and her team foster mentorship opportunities in order to educate the next generation of technologists, particularly as the nature of health care is changing nationwide.
Susan Beck, PhD, the division’s director, said that it was a privilege to teach McGee as a student and a pleasure to work with her through the years in her roles as clinical instructor, laboratory administrator, and member of the division’s advisory board. “Martha is a dedicated laboratory professional who will bring her devotion to excellence in patient care to all that she does in her new leadership role.”
The division is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences.