Hayley Byatt has been with NSW Health Pathology for 5 years, but working in pathology for more than 20 years.
I’m a “Phlebotomist”, though no one calls us that nowadays – I think it sounds like “Flowery Bottom”. We’re called Pathology Collectors.
It’s funny, I’m a real sook when I have my blood taken. If you wave my blood in front of me, I’ll faint on you. But I can look at yours, till the cows come home. So I know what it’s like to sit in the chair. If I can help somebody get through a blood test today, by learning a few tricks that will also help them conquer their fears for future visit too. That’s me doing my job properly. By paying it forward, if you will.
I started in the private sector and moved to public pathology. I’ve been doing this longer than some of my colleagues have been walking the planet. Gosh, it’s probably been a quarter of a century now.
Working across the region
I’m based in Kempsey, but I work across the region. I could be in a hospital on the wards or collecting in the outpatients at our Port Macquarie Lighthouse Beach or Lake Innes collection centres, or visiting patients in their homes.
The right job feels like home
I moved to public pathology for a change of scene and liked the idea of camaraderie and being part of a close-knit team. On my first day, two of the collectors I used to work with gave me the biggest hug, I’ll never forget. I instantly thought, ‘I’ve done the right thing, you know.’ I just knew I was home.
My Kempsey team feels like a second family and we look out for each other. We’re like puzzle pieces – we all bring something different and complement each other. People appreciate what we do, especially in a rural community where they travel considerable distances just to see you.
Key traits of a pathology collector
To be a collector, you need to have patience, kindness, resilience, and a lot of empathy. The key is to treat people how you’d like to be treated. Imagine if that was your mum, or sister, or grandmother. Then you can’t go wrong.
I encourage others to start a career in pathology
It’s nice to see new staff – watching them grow is lovely. Now more than ever, we must be human and kind to each other. Some days can be taxing, but others can be so unbelievably rewarding. Covid has put many things into perspective. At the end of a long or difficult day, I like to get back to nature. Whether it’s sitting under a tree or feeling the wind on your face. Sometimes you just need to take your shoes off to ground yourself. Be it in the dirt, the grass, the mud or the rocks. It simply reminds you it’s an enormous world and we’re just a tiny part of it.
I see a lot of people with cancer. They’ve got enough going on. Every day is a struggle just to get up and be part of the world; they’re so brave. By listening, chatting and having a giggle, whilst having a blood test, it can often make a difficult part of their journey just that little bit easier.
Another thing I do to unwind is a bit of ‘treasure hunting’ at op shops or antique stores. It helps me decompress. At my local it doesn’t matter what sort of day you’ve had. They know your name. They’ll smile at you and say hello. This helps restore your faith in human nature. Bargain or not, I go home to my family refreshed.
My journey to pathology
I grew up on a wheat farm in the country and am lucky enough to have travelled the world. Funnily enough, I found my husband back where I started in my hometown. We moved to Port Macquarie for his work. I attended a nursing conference and as fate would have it, I completed my Assistant in Nursing and trained on the job. I think of myself as an amalgamation of skills, amassed from all those fantastic nurses, and midwives I used to work with all those years ago.
I took some time off to have my son. When he was school-age, I decided to get some qualifications to hit the ground running. I returned to work with a Certificate III in Pathology Collection. It was my first time away from my husband and son. I stayed onsite in the nurses’ quarters on campus for about a month for the intensive course. I expected to leave with a piece of paper and refreshed skills, but I also came away with lifelong friends.
So, it just naturally progressed from there.
If I hadn’t started in the health sector, I’d be a retired jet fighter pilot or driving one of those massive Tonka trucks in the mines.
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