From:Bryan Hewlett


I have to agree with your manager.

Competency is the ability to perform an operation. That is, to embed, cut
sections or perform the staining etc.
There are degrees of competency of course, ranging from the minimally
competent, to the superstar!
The minimally competent would be able to satisfactorily perform the
operation required most of the time, but would require assistance in
handling difficult or unusual samples. Most importantly, the minimally
competent individual would recognize their limitations, ask for assistance
and learn from the experience. Failure to do this would constitute
'unconscious incompetence'.
There are millions of people in the world with a demonstrated competence in
driving an automobile, i.e. they hold a valid driving licence.
Only 30 or so people hold a licence to drive formula 1 cars, they are the

Productivity is the number of operations performed in a specified time
Measuring productivity alone is insufficient, the product must meet an
accepted standard.
It is useless to produce 2000 cookies an hour if most of them are broken,
unless, of course, you intend to produce broken cookies!
This is what you are measuring!

Productivity for microtomy can be difficult to measure. The number of slides
per hour is very misleading. Many factors have to be taken into
consideration for this tool to be useful. For example, it is easy to produce
200-300 high quality slides per hour from a single block that is easy to
cut. However, a single high quality slide from each of 200-300 such blocks
is not so easy!!! Mix in a variety of blocks with widely divergent degrees
of difficulty to cut and the number of slides per hour drops dramatically.
If I gave a block of Rhino hide containing fat and the occasional suture to
a superstar microtomist, he/she might be able to produce 5 -10 slides, of
reasonable quality, per hour. The minimally competent individual might
achieve one. Both individuals are competent.

A more realistic microtomy productivity expectation, in a routine histology
laboratory that handles a variety of surgical samples, might be 25 - 40
blocks per tech, per hour. This will of course depend upon the following;
Average competence of the microtomists,
The required section thickness ( 4 microns is more difficult than 6
The required section quality,
The number of sections per block (deepers, levels, serials etc.),
The type and quality of the blocks (tissue, fixation, processing, multiple
samples in one block, etc.),
The ergonomics of the microtomy area (microtome and blades, floating out
bath, space, lighting, etc.),
The attitude of the staff, appreciated staff are productive staff, managers
please note!

Bryan Hewlett(Old retired guy)
P.S. I cut my first section in 1949, several million sections later, just
when I was getting the hang of it, I retired!

----- Original Message -----
From: "Soto, Roxanne" 
To: "Histonet (E-mail)" 
Sent: Thursday, November 14, 2002 5:54 PM

> I know that this subject has been brought many times before, but I really
> need some advice.  I had to develop competencies at my organization
> the techs have not had to be in several years, nor have they been help
> accountable for anything.  To come up with an objective number for
> and microtomy, I watched them for several days and timed them all.  I came
> up with a "lab average" and to be competent they had to be within 70% of
> lab average.  For example, the lab average for microtomy was 84 slides per
> hour and to be competent they had to cut 59 slides per hour with less than
> 2% error rate (error rate is based on depth and wrinkles, etc.).  I have
> several employees that are well below that number.  They think that I am
> being unrealistic in my expectations of them.  My manager and I disagree
> what competent means.  He feels that I am asking for productivity and not
> competency, I think they are one in the same.  He feels that to be
> that have to show they know how to do their job, I told him to be
> they have to be productive.  He asked me today if there were any articles
> about productivity standards in histology.  So is there such a thing?
> Now I have other things on my competency as well, such as, accessioning,
> frozens, special stains, processing, microwave processing, etc.  My next
> question is, what do you do if you have a tech that doesn't pass the
> competency?  I have been told that I have to re-train them, even if they
> have been a tech for 30 years.  How does your organization handle this?
> On the down side of this, is my techs.  They don't care about the
> competencies because even if they are not competent, nothing will happen
> them, so they don't care.  One tech can come in and bust there butt and
> will get the same benefits and raise as a tech that comes in and does
> absolutely nothing.  I have been trying to change this since I got here,
> until I have documentation to back me up, I am stuck.
> You advice would be greatly appreciated.
> Roxanne
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