The Creative Scientist
2020.05.15Aileen Lee

The Creative Scientist

Iva Tong attended our “Share Your Story” pop up, where we collected stories from the everyday women. Little did we know that some of the interviews we conducted back in March would become so strikingly relevant today. Iva Tong is a medical lab supervisor, and her team is directly working on Covid-19 testing.

I still recall the first time I asked Iva about her career.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished high school. So one day, my mom just came up to me and told me she signed me up for a program,” Iva said.

Iva chuckled while recalling her mother’s bossiness. Was it the right decision for a parent to dictate a child’s future? I couldn’t help but wonder.

Iva was born in the States, but she has lived in all parts of the world with her family — from the States to Nigeria to Hong Kong to Vancouver. Her family has always moved together as a tight knitted unit, and Iva described herself as very family-oriented. Life had also exposed her to a plethora of differing cultures, which taught her to perceive things with an openminded perspective.

“I just knew I loved science, but was unsure about which specific field to go for.”

Iva went on, “and my mother noted how ‘all over the place’ I was. I wanted to do science, but not just one type. When she told me she signed me up for the medical lab program, I decided to heed her advice and give it a go.”

Today, Iva is a medical lab supervisor at LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services. As the pandemic engulfed the world country by country, her role became not only essential, but critical.

Iva wears our Praxis Jumpsuit in caramel.

Iva's work now centres on Covid-19 testing, with her team specifically on pre- and post-analytical testing.

“So far it’s been crazy. When the lockdown first happened, it was more ridiculously busy,” Iva explained. She had worked many days straight and only recently received some days off. “As the supervisor, I had to ensure we can handle the spiked increase in testing by organizing the high volume of orders in our system. I also had to make sure specimens are allocated to the right place with top efficiency, so that these important reports get back to our doctors.”

“The most challenging part of the bench work that my team does is how we need to be absolutely focused and detail oriented at all times. We are not patient facing, but a lot of our work goes to help the doctors and nurses determine proper treatment. We help pinpoint what was wrong, or what is now working.”

When I first interviewed Iva back at the pop-up, she had briefly touched on the importance of creativity in her work. As someone who solely loved science subjects, she once thought creativity was not important, nor was it a quality she possessed. However, work had shown her that problem solving required her to be creative. Many times, using out of the box trouble shooting was key to finding the right solution to help a patient.

The creative nature of her work also kept it interesting, and kept an "all over the place" Iva on her toes.

“When I first started with this career, I didn’t know that there can be this many variety of tests and cases. There is always new ways of testing that improve on what we’ve verified before, so we are continually learning and evolving,” Iva remarked.

Although Iva’s story initially sounded like another typical occurrence of “Asian parents” with their “you doctor yet” — but digging deeper, it shows a strongly built understanding between mother and daughter. Iva accepted her mother’s well-intended guidance, and took a leap of faith that paid off in the end.

“I think lab medicine is truly interesting.”

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