Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin Crest

WSLH Proficiency Testing

Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene

Tag: Wellness


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

Occupational Safety From A Public Health Standpoint

While much has changed in our world since the start of the pandemic, there are some positive developments and plenty of lessons learned that will help us as we move toward the future. Certainly, lessons were learned in the world of laboratory safety. Here at the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene, which is home to WSLH Proficiency Testing, we are constantly learning about adaptation during the COVID-19 pandemic from our colleagues and coworkers at the Wisconsin Occupational Health Laboratory Division. In particular, their free consultation program WisCon has expanded their services from assisting small businesses with chemical, noise, and air monitoring, to now providing COVID-19 consultations and respirator fit test kits to facilities, including skilled nursing facilities. As North American Occupational Safety and Health Week (May 2-8) approaches, WSLH Proficiency Testing (PT) wants to raise awareness of the importance of preventing injuries and illnesses at work. Regardless of our sector or industry of employment, WSLH PT hopes that individuals and organizations take advantage of the resources that maybe available to them to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.

Ernie Stracener (right), consultation program manager, and Dan Trocke (left), safety consultant with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, pack PPE supplies into boxes at a warehouse in Madison. Photo by Bryce Richter

Ernie Stracener from the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene gets to see how everything is made, from foundries pouring molten steel to veterinarian clinics conducting testing for your pets. It’s a wonderful side-perk in his efforts to help small businesses maintain safe working conditions. Ernie Stracener is the Consultation Program Manager for the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene’s WisCon project, which provides free industrial hygiene inspections and occupational safety consultations for small businesses across the state of Wisconsin. 

The WisCon project is the largest consultation agency in the state of Wisconsin, helping the private sector have on-site and virtual consultations regarding any potential work-related hazards, including noise level testing, gas monitoring and air quality sampling.

Every week, consultants from WisCon travel the state conducting on-site inspections and providing safety consultations to small businesses with under 250 employees. That adds up to a little over 450 on-site consultations with approximately 350 businesses every year. The WisCon project has been in existence for 40 plus years, and has had to get creative like so many others in response to COVID-19 in how they provide their services.

 Since the pandemic, WisCon has been providing consultations on COVID-related activities. Starting in July of last year, the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Health Service (WDHS) to expand lab capacity in SARS-CoV-2 testing for the state. As part of that partnership, WisCon received funding to provide COVID-19 consulting, create and distribute respiratory fit tests for N-95 masks and other respirators, and develop decontamination methods for single-use PPE for small businesses and medical facilities. Such services that WisCon provides, Ernie adds, are very unique to the state of Wisconsin. “It may be happening from other sources, but this is a product of a very specific request from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. We were glad we could be plugged into the COVID relief efforts in this way. It’s been rewarding,” said Stacener.

As WisCon continues to provide and expand occupational health and safety services to small businesses and facilities in the private sector within Wisconsin, there are other sectors that could benefit from WisCon’s free consultations, including the public sector. However, public sector employees in Wisconsin right now can take advantage of COVID-related consultations from WisCon.  Many more opportunities to expand service in workplace safety and industrial hygiene in all sectors of employment may arise as individuals become aware of the vital resource that WisCon provides. Raising awareness as part of North American Occupational Safety and Health Week presents an excellent opportunity to focus, reinforce, and strengthen commitment to occupational safety and health. For clinical laboratories in particular, WSLH Proficiency Testing encourages you to visit OSHA’s Laboratories page promoting a culture of safety and implementing standards and practices.

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up to receive your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more:


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

How We Cope During COVID-19

As we ring in the New Year, with hopes, goals, and challenges in mind, medical laboratory professionals continue to respond and adapt with inspiring tenacity to assure quality patient testing. Self-care has never been so important to minimize burnout and promote a more sustainable workplace. We hope what we share below encourages you to share with us how you and your team cope with stress through adaptive strategies like resource-sharing, self-care, and storytelling. Please share with us by replying by email at

As we challenged assumptions about our own ability to adapt and learn new ways of working, we forged through some of the most difficult realities of our working life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our individual and collective journeys as laboratory professionals have taught us lessons to help us adapt to difficult situations and conditions, or have taught us that a different career trajectory is possible, and needed, for our own well-being.

Should we decide that we might survive and thrive better in healthcare settings than in other workplace settings, finding healthy coping mechanisms has been integral to minimizing burnout and compassion fatigue, beyond the other immediate health problems that have come with the job throughout this pandemic.

According to an article published in July 2020 in the American Journal for Infectious Control, the primary ways that healthcare professionals managed best to cope with the stresses of their jobs included:

limiting their own exposure to media coverage and social media; limiting sharing their COVID-19 duty details with loved ones and community members; coping through religious practices and spiritual communities; and building capacity for altruism and empathy. Based on studies like these, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends and provides some tips for adapting healthy coping strategies to manage stress, avoid physical or mental fatigue, and build resilience.

It is important to validate your feelings and experiences first in order to be able to recognize the need for self-care, indicates The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in an article they released in July 2020. In their article, SAMHSA points out the signs of disaster-related distress and compassion fatigue; and offers tips and resources for getting help. They offer a downloadable pdf on their website; and it is suggested to print out the last page regarding resources and post it somewhere in your facility.

Regardless of our job titles, we all have important contributions to make to the stream of life and the web of humanity. As medical laboratory professionals and healthcare professionals, dealing with the unsustainability of work conditions present challenges that no human should be asked to overcome, and yet you have. How have you and your team promoted a more sustainable workplace through adaptive strategies like resource-sharing, self-care, and storytelling? Please share with us by replying by email at

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up for your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more:


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

Going? Staying? “Home” for the Holidays

A few of the biggest questions this holiday season will be, “to travel or not to travel?” and “to gather or not to gather?” For some people, they’ve quickly answered these questions, taking the lowest level of risk as outlined by the CDC: celebrating with people in their immediate household and planning for virtual visits. For others, they may be making elaborate travel plans, with itineraries that include pre-testing, quarantining, post-testing and hoping for the best. You may find yourself weighing various levels of vigilance and care, as you find ways to meet the basic human need of social interaction and contact with others. Regardless of where a person’s boundaries fall in caring for oneself and one’s family, people will tap into their sense of risk assessment and make the decision that seems the most right for them and their loved ones. Below are a few ideas to help you plan, whether you stay home and celebrate virtually or plan to take the risk of traveling and visiting relatives and friends this holiday season.

Staying Home/Virtual Visits
If you are leaning towards staying at home and not gathering in-person this year, here are a few ways you can reach out and find connection this holiday season.

Consider setting up a gathering with multiple people over a video conferencing platform like Zoom, Hangouts, Skype or Facebook: share some of your favorite family recipes in your respective kitchens; have a cookie decorating contest; send each other gifts ahead of time and open them together. All that’s required is a little know-how of the technology, some imagination, and maybe a Pinterest account for a plethora of ideas to celebrate virtually in ways that are meaningful to you and yours. If the technology required for virtual hosting sounds a like more of a headache that you are willing to handle or accessibility is an issue, maybe ask another family member who might use the conferencing platforms more often to see if they would help host.

Another option is to only celebrate in-person with those who live in your immediate household and find ways to connect with others outside of virtual conferencing. (Zoom-fatigue is real for many!) Make time to send plenty of cards and notes by mail to your friends and loved ones, especially those who might be living alone and may feel the weight of isolation over the holiday season even more so this year. Call people or sing them sweet and kiddy holiday songs on their voicemail. There’s also video messaging app options, like Marco Polo, that allow you to leave personal video messages anytime to anyone else who might be on the app. To get you in the spirit this giving season, you may also want to elect to volunteer for contactless food drive donations or raise funds online for your favorite charity.

Holiday Travelling/Visiting
“Fall and winter celebrations, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Halloween, Día de los Muertos, Navratri, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s, typically include large gatherings of families and friends, crowded parties, and travel that may put people at increased risk for COVID-19,” says the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on their website.

If you still plan to visit relatives this year, please take a look at some considerations the CDC has outlined for assessing risk if you’re are planning for holiday celebrations. Considerations include before and after-gathering preparation, hosting advisories, and traveling guidelines that include basic public health practices such as avoiding indoor spaces, especially poorly ventilated indoor spaces, mask-wearing, minimizing the guest list, and social distancing. The CDC also advises that individuals follow local, county, and state-wide regulations that are put in place to help slow the spread.

Infection experts have indicated that inter-household gatherings are key factors in rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As early as May of this year, a Twitter thread from Muge Cevik, an infectious disease researcher at the University of St. Andrews, covered a lot of the relevant research.

“High infection rates seen in household, friend & family gatherings, transport suggest that closed contacts in congregation is likely the key driver of productive transmission,” she wrote, adding that “while we have limited data, similar high risk transmission pattern could be seen in other crowded & connected indoor environments such as crowded office spaces, other workplace environment, packed restaurants/cafes, cramped apartment buildings etc.”

Since the virus is spread by respiratory droplets, minimizing the number of households gathering, outdoors and especially indoors, will help make the other basic public health practices of mask wearing, ventilation, social-distancing, and hand-washing effective.  A recent article by Vox shares stories of people making travel plans as it relates to their own understanding of the risks involved. Reading such stories may help you process risk-assessment and brainstorm any ideas you may have for traveling and visiting this year. For some, as the article indicates, taking the risk of travel and visiting relatives is better than other alternatives, and has provided some much needed reprieve from the day-to-day isolation and stress of coping under a global pandemic.

“At Home” During The Holidays
Whatever you decide to do, whether you are sheltering-in-place or travelling to visit relatives, it’s important to note that not everyone in your family or friend network will share the same idea of what it means to stay safe as they make celebration plans. Please also listen to those who might feel the most vulnerable, the least safe, or the most anxious as you make your plans in a group and consider collectively what your group consensus will look like. Not everyone will have the same boundaries or same level of comfort in considering both the risks of isolation and the risks of gathering. It’s important to do your best to openly discuss with your immediate household what is best to stay safe, to find ways to celebrate and to reach out and connect to those you will be missing this year.

As you and your loved ones navigate these difficult times, we hope that you are finding ways to fulfill the basic human need of connection and joy-making. Stay safe and take care.

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up for your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more:


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

Finding some R&R this summer

As the state of Wisconsin begins to open up in a patchwork of local phases and plans, many people are understandably feeling the itch to travel, if they haven’t packed their bags already!  However there are still many conditions that require people to stay put, especially those who are chronically ill or are healthcare or laboratory professionals who are not able to take the time off that they feel would make a trip worth the travel.

In the midst of a global pandemic and various recommendations and restrictions on travel, you may be waiting to catch those summer vibes another time. (hopefully next year!) Or if you are amongst the kind of people who would agree with the statement, “I’m just planning this life day-by-day” then a vacation of sorts sounds like worlds away. Below are some ideas that we hope will inspire you to find rest and relaxation this summer that is likely long overdue.

Planning a “staycation”
Find some summer fun right in your hometown or backyard. Try organizing a socially-distanced Cook-Out or BBQ. Grab a book and set up a hammock. Connect with your inner child and run under some sprinklers to cool off or chalk some positive messages for passerbys on the sidewalk. Check out some offerings at your local park or activities that local organizations are hosting virtually, like how to start a container garden or learning how to paint with watercolors.

If you are the kind of person who really likes to make and check off lists, it may be difficult for you to find some rest and relaxation at home without diving entirely into all of those house projects you have been wanting to finish. However, for some, this may be your idea of achieving rest and relaxation on a smaller, everyday level by finishing those projects you’ve been setting aside.

Traveling outside of your town
If you are planning to travel outside of your local area, read the CDC’s “Considerations for Travelers” document to help you discern where and when to travel. Here’s the link for more information:

Additionally, if traveling outside of your town, please also take into account the following safety tips:

  • Check the state or city health department travel guidance for your visit and along your route. Plan to keep checking for updates as you travel.
  • State or city governments may enact travel restrictions, such as stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, mandated quarantine upon arrival, or even state or border closures.
  • Talk with your doctor before you go, especially if you are 65 years or older or have medical issues.
  • Do a pre-trip check on your car and tires. Fewer roadside services may be available and you may become stranded if you have car troubles.
  • Clean and disinfect your car, especially the steering wheel, safety belts, door handles, and the fob or keys you use to start the car.
  • Pack plenty of charging cords and external batteries for electronic devices. If your car’s navigation system contains emergency calling, enable it.
  • Pack a cooler with drinks and snacks, including high-protein foods that will not go bad to limit visits inside of rest stops or gas stations.

-source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services 

Places to visit in Wisconsin 
At the time of publication, cases have overall decreased in Dane County, Wisconsin, where WSLH Proficiency Testing is located. Providing some opportunity for rest and travel, our staff are beginning to plan time off from work and would like to share some places they like to visit locally as well as around the state.

  • Madison, Wisconsin–Come visit the beautiful capital city of Wisconsin, where WSLH Proficiency Testing is located. Plan a trip to the Wisconsin Memorial Union Terrace and enjoy some refreshments with friends or family with a scenic view of Lake Mendota, now open by appointment. Visit a number of lovely public parks, including Olbrich Botanical Gardens. You can also now rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle boat at a municipal park offering rentals. Visitors can also some shopping as many local businesses have re-opened with 50% capacity allowance. For more information, visit:
  •  Amnicon Falls State Park–Are you wanting to get out in nature? Amnicon Falls State park in the northwestern part of the state offers many waterfalls to visit along the Amnicon river as well as many activities including hiking, picnicking, and overnight camping. For more information about this park and other Wisconsin state park offerings, visit:
  •  Minocqua, WI–Have you and your family been dreaming of a “Northwoods” experience? As the tourist bureau asks people to “Minocqua Responsibly” the area is opening up in ways that will allow people to enjoy their favorite activities in the “Island city” surrounded by 2,300 lakes. Enjoy a fish fry with a scenic view. Go swimming, fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, or canoeing. The shopping districts are also open to the pubic at 50% capacity and offer many locally-made products and crafts. For more information, visit:

Whether any of these ideas inspire you to make your travel plans for this summer or next, or have you dreaming of visits with Slow TV from the comfort of your living room couch, we hope you are finding some ways to rest and recharge. We all need it in some way to come back fully to our everyday lives and work.

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up for your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more:


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

A Little Change Can Do Us Some Good



It seems lately that you cannot read an article without some mention of Covid-19. Even if you are actively avoiding the subject, which is difficult to do in our line of work amidst a global pandemic, just having to read prefaces like this can make you feel unsettled. Feeling those familiar feelings of discomfort and exhaustion mark our days now of living, working, and learning as laboratory professionals.

It’s difficult for many of us to feel connected in meaningful ways with busy schedules, social distancing, and loved ones in various levels of quarantine. Sometimes getting on social media to see how our family, old college friends and even that guy we met at a conference 6 years ago is doing can be an opportunity for the joy of human connection and, at other times, an anxiety-filled click hole down subjects and topics we were hoping to avoid.

How can we take care of ourselves while still having some sort of life shared with others, albeit so much of it lived out on the internet and with hectic-as-ever work schedules?

Limit your access to social media
Have a smart phone? Delete the social media apps on your phone or turn off the notifications your receive from these platforms. Such moves to limit access can encourage us to check our news feeds less frequently. If you have a habit of getting on social media more than you would like or would like to care less about your social media presence, try some of these tactics.

Adjust Your Friends List
It is really not cool, at least for the adult version of ourselves, to “collect” a lot of “friends” on social media, like Facebook for example. Having a lot of friends, however vestigial, can often lead to seeing content that we might not want to see or that we find somewhat negative or depressing.

It is okay to occasionally clean up your friends list, unfollow people, or select to see people first who post content that you find positive, uplifting or inspiring.

Share Don’t Compare
Stress from social media happens when we use it to “see what others are doing.” This approach may seem casual and certainly not pernicious to our mental health, but when we scroll and scroll we begin to compare ourselves to others rather than sharing our lives with others. This is a recipe for never seeing our lives and selves as enough. You are enough right now as you are.

Use your accounts to share positive things about your life and then log off. Then, feel free to log back on to see who may have commented and respond to those people. As this Huffington Post article says, “Share Don’t Compare.”

Use other ways to connect
If you are not on social media, but you have made it this far through the article just out of boredom or curiosity, thank you! What are ways that you connect with others? Sometimes picking up the phone can feel like a ton, especially when we are very busy. Try texting a friend or two a funny or adorable pet video or something that reminds you of your friends. Next time maybe the phone won’t feel so heavy. Seven to ten minute phone conversations are also great (and can be achieved with some people, if that’s what you are into). Also, sending a short and sweet postcard is a great way to break up a “ho-hum” routine. Plus, the process of finding adorable stamps and postcards to send can be fun.

We hope that some of these suggestions have inspired you to find make healthy adjustments and changes to your ways of connecting and socializing that help you lower your stress and find positivity

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up for your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more: