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I will remember you: Lucie Sabourin

Pat Letendre interviews our TM colleagues - past & present:

It's my pleasure, indeed an honour, to write a series of blogs for CSTM to celebrate the careers of transfusion professionals who came before and made a difference. Some names you may recognize, some you may not. But rest assured they all made a difference and we are the better for it. 

Each blog begins with a brief background on the person's career, followed by musings on their career and my comments throughout. If you're looking for a rosy view of Canada's transfusion medicine field, this ain't it. Why? Although all participants enjoyed their careers and love the transfusion profession, they speak honestly about both the ups and downs. Perhaps their reflections will resonate with your experiences.

I will remember you: Lucie Sabourin

This blog features Lucie Sabourin, a medical laboratory technologist I met in Edmonton in the early 1980s when she worked for the Canadian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service (CRC-BTS). Among other responsibilities, Lucie was a charge technologist responsible for hepatitis B testing. In those halcyon days, the only transfusion-transmissible (TA) diseases blood donors were screened for were syphilis and hepatitis B. Imagine that!

Mind you, HBsAg screening had already gone through many changes from counterimmuno-electropheresis (CIEP) to reverse passive hemagglutination (RPHA), then radioimmunoassay (RIA) and enzyme immunoassay (EIA). As a TA disease testing specialist, little could Lucie imagine what awaited her in her 38 years with Canada's blood supplier, CRC-BTS, then CBS. Her career is a testament to the resilience of all those employed by Canada's blood supplier who experienced unparalleled CHANGE, year in, year out.

In her Edmonton days I didn't get to know Lucie well, but I knew that she gave birth to twins and that was to have a positive future impact in my life. Okay, this is a 'teaser' - you'll have to read to the blog's end to discover why.


Before you can appreciate how Lucie made a difference and understand her musing, you should know a few of her experiences. I encourage you to consider your career compared to hers and how you may muse on transfusion medicine.

Besides being an infections disease specialist, Lucie is qualified as a CQA and CQM from the American Society for Quality. With excellent knowledge of Canadian and international regulations and standards, she  performed many audits in Canada, USA, and Europe. Lucie is also bilingual, which made her a valuable asset to her employer and to organizations that Lucie volunteered for, most notably CSTM. As CSTM webmaster (2001-10), I worked with Lucie during her term as CSTM Secretary/Treasurer (1999-2006). Such a pleasure! Lucie always came through with whatever was needed and in a timely way, despite having a busy work and home life raising her twins.

For a few of Lucie's many contributions to Canada's transfusion community and beyond, see a short resume.


How did you make a difference?

At CBS my roles allowed me to make a major contribution to the implementation of NAT HCV and NAT HIV from the start of the project as a project member for the National Testing Laboratory in Ottawa to being Charge Technologist of the laboratory. The NAT HCV project was implemented within 10 months in 1999 and affected most departments at CBS. I was also instrumental in implementing the NAT HIV testing in 2001 by leading the validation and implementation efforts at NTL for the sites.

In 2003 I was seconded for three months to relocate the NAT testing laboratories to Calgary from Vancouver. My role was training staff and once again implementing the testing in Calgary. This was a challenging time as the timelines were very tight (7 weeks) and many staff had to be trained. Training involved three full weeks for each staff. I was the only staff member qualified to release results for three weeks post implementation while the supervisory staff were being trained. 

My ability to manage and train staff to perform their work was very rewarding. I believe in continuing education either through courses or attending conference. I really enjoyed providing advice and direction to staff to advance themselves. I made many friends and worked with some excellent colleagues throughout my 38 years at CBS.

I also made a difference as the director/manager of Records and Information Management. Our team developed and implemented a Records Retention and Disposition Schedule that complied with the blood regulations and the CSA standard. The project took three years to implement and was completed within timelines and below budget. This was a great achievement for CBS in that it allowed for the destruction of some legacy records. We also saw some financial efficiencies in the department.

What was the most fun?

The most fun I had in my career was being a quality auditor. It was challenging learning the pharmaceutical world and also auditing vendors. Every company did things differently. You had to think it through and look at the process as things do not always have to be done the same way to meet quality. I met many people through those 6 years and it was a pleasure to work with them. This led to being an assessor for AABB for Donor Testing sites in the US for 8 years. This was interesting to look for things that worked well and implement them at CBS.

A great pleasure was to volunteer, which ended up being a paid experience, with the Canadian Society for International Health (CSIH). I developed international standards on blood and transfusion services for the Republic of Kazakhstan. The country had regulations but they were not well written and were difficult to understand. My role was to write the standards in an international format (IsQua).

With CSIH I visited Kazakhstan four times: The first two visits were to present and get feedback on the standards and the last two visits involved training the national accreditation team and also conducting a mock assessment of a blood center. It was very interesting and within two years I saw their accreditation program evolve. The people were nice and Kazakhstan is a beautiful country. It is definitely not like what we see in Borat (the movie).

As my children were growing up, I also volunteered for many organizations they participated in. I really enjoyed being a scout leader (6 years) and treasurer of a daycare (8 years).

I also volunteered on the CSTM Board of Directors from 1999 to 2006 as treasurer- secretary, which involved the relocation of the office to Ottawa in 2002. I returned to CSTM as Director at Large from 2013 until now. I totally enjoy participating in activities such as setting Webinar for education days and as the co-chair of the conference in 2017 in Ottawa. 

My hobbies are travelling and I hope to see more than 100 countries as I am at 49 countries (half way there and counting). I also enjoy learning (reading anything I can put my hands on from associations news to novels). I hope to continue volunteering as I enter the  next phase in my life especially with children and patients.

[Photos from CSTM Photo Gallery]


As a long term Red Cross and CBS employee, I regret that we had to go through the Krever enquiry to start thinking about quality and doing what was best for patients. It was stressful and took a long time, especially when it was proposed that there would be another organization taking over. 

I had the privilege to give Justice Krever a tour of the transmissible diseases laboratories. He listened to everything we did and asked some questions related to the testing protocols: What did it mean to all the dedicated employees? How would this transformation happen? What would happen to the laboratories especially HCV and HIV testing? 

Personally, it took a few years before the changes started happening. They were good but the number of changes coming down has been overwhelming. The most frustrating for me is the new start every few years with re-organization and losing qualified staff, requiring us to start again.

Biggest concerns going forward?

My biggest concern is the lack of positions for Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) as they are being replaced by technology in the laboratory. Also MLTs seek work outside of the laboratory, as it pays more and the stress is not as much. I have seen many technologists going into quality positions or other support functions. Their expertise is recognized but often not as fulfilling as being in the laboratory.

Many management positions in charge of laboratories are being given to non-technologists, therefore there is little advancement in our profession. A related challenge is that very few jobs require technologists anymore. Other professionals are taking these jobs.


Lucie had a long and fulfilling career with one of Canada's blood suppliers, one she can be proud of. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be CRC-BTS/CBS Charge Technologist, Transmissible Disease Testing (1986-1998), and CBS Charge Technologist, Nucleic Acid Testing (1999-2002).

'All' that was involved was implementing NAT HCV and NAT HIV testing and relocating NAT testing laboratories to Calgary from Vancouver, including training staff and serving as the sole staff member qualified to release results for three weeks post-implementation while supervisory staff were trained. Monumental achievements, ones that usually go under the radar, as do most front-line staff accomplishments.

As someone who has worked on the 'dark side' (my joke about working for the blood supplier on the donor side) and also for patient services, albeit in two blood centres (and as a long-time transfusion science instructor), I immensely admire dedicated CBS colleagues such as Lucie, who have persevered through enormous changes. Frankly, folks who work for hospital transfusion services, while experiencing significant change, know little about what their CBS colleagues dealt with and continue to deal with.

In 2005 Lucie received the Blum award for her long dedication to CSTM, so well deserved. She currently serves as CSTM Director-at-Large (Bilingual) and has undertaken responsibility as co-chair of the CSTM 2017 conference in Ottawa. In a way, I see this as masochistic, as many who serve on conference organizing committees well know. But just like Moms who keep having babies, there must be some joy and satisfaction in the resulting product. <;-)

Lucie's regrets and concerns going forward resonate with me. First, unfortunately, the Krever inquiry was indeed needed to cause change, confirming that large organizations seldom change unless forced to. As to losing qualified staff due to reorganization, that's happened in transfusion services for years due to lab regionalization and automation.

Senior management positions going to non-health professionals is common. One effect is that medical laboratory technologists may find such jobs closed to them without qualifications such as MBAs. The reality of a glass ceiling for females in any organization also plays a role, and historically medical laboratory technology has been female dominated, as has nursing. Bottom line? With decreased public spending, running health care like a business is in vogue everywhere and folks in suits (as opposed to lab coats, scrubs, etc.) are skilled in business practices such as minimizing expenses. But to understand the complex health-related processes they oversee and properly assess the effects of decisions and possible unintended consequences, consulting frontline staff is key.

Okay, now to explain the 'teaser'. For a few years Lucie's daughter Sylvie (one of her twins) served as translator for both the CSTM and the Transfusion Safety Officer (TSO) mailing list I managed (and still do) when the list was bilingual. What a lovely 'kid', one I so enjoyed working with. Sylvie gave the translator position up when she entered university in a demanding molecular biology program. But I've always appreciated how she made my life easy and what a pleasure she was to work with. Tempted to say Lucie's daughter was a 'value added' asset. <;-)

Final thoughts: CRC-BTS/CBS employees, medical laboratory technologists like Lucie, are priceless. All Canadians should be thankful they were there when we needed them. That they are anonymous - go under the radar in Canada's blood system - is a shame.

Comments are most welcome. Do any of Lucie's views correlate with yours? Please add to the record of what it was (or is) like to work as a transfusion professional in Canada by commenting.


Pat Letendre
Thanks Sue-Ann. Your comment reminds me of how important it is for Canadian transfusion professionals to join their professional association, CSTM, whether lab tech, nurse, physician.

Often stated benefits to joining a professional association include opportunities to (my comments)
* Access and provide CE resources (Learn and share)
* Network to enhance a career (Meeting Canadian and international colleagues is rewarding in and of itself)
* Become a leader (If you dare to put yourself out there, you are a leader)
* Mentor colleagues (Giving is always better than receiving)
* Make new friends (Especially if they broaden your perspective)
* Give back to the community (How we pay our dues for a wonderful career)
* Stay positive and motivated (In tough times we need all the help we can get)

Sue-Ann, you writing, 'Thanks for doing that from the whole transfusion medicine community!' shows another benefit. We seldom get thanked for our efforts and it's important to know that, even if it's not often stated, your colleagues do appreciate what you do. Believe it and never forget.

Wish all transfusion professionals would become CSTM members. It's ~25¢/day and well worth supporting. Without CSTM we would be so much poorer. No Canadian association to met our needs? Think about it.
9/5/2016 9:06:59 PM

Sue-Ann Blakely
Great article on Lucie Sabourin.....Thanks for doing that from the whole transfusion medicine community!
8/28/2016 7:17:35 PM

Pat Letendre
Hi Bev,
About dedication, I'm always blown away by CBS staff like Lucie, and there are many med lab techs who fit the bill, who've stayed for decades and seem to thrive on constant change and stress. When such careers end, they truly deserve, "'Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21)
8/28/2016 3:03:21 PM

Pat Letendre
Hi Dianne and Lucie,
Yep, I think CBS should add dedication, conscientiousness, and loyalty to its essentials for hiring med lab techs, as well as learn and adapt to enormous, CONTINUAL change under extremely stressful work conditions with tight deadlines.

After all, in the case of transfusion-transmitted diseases, it's only a matter of life and death if you screw up (make human errors). No pressure!
8/28/2016 2:53:44 PM

Bev Padget
I echo Dianne's comments on your career, Lucie - such a variety of contributions to the blood system, not only in Canada but around the world. Your dedication has always been exemplary and is also evidenced in your involvement as a volunteer, most notably in numerous capacities with the CSTM. It has been a privilege to be your colleague for most of my career and more importantly, to be your friend!
8/28/2016 10:36:21 AM

Dianne Powell
Wow! Lucie! What an amazing career you have had to date! You have done so much for transfusion and the blood system in Canada and beyond, and the changes you have seen over 38 years have been incredible. Some of your history and experience I had known and forgotten, and some I was unaware of (your Kazakhstan experience for example). I have always admired your dedication, conscientiousness, and loyalty. You always gave your very best no matter what the task at hand, and you have indeed been called upon to tackle a great diversity of tasks over a long and most accomplished career. I am most grateful to have been a colleague and to continue as a friend. Good luck in all future endeavours!
8/27/2016 3:54:42 PM

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