SBBs: A Dying Breed?


Vol. 17 •Issue 4 • Page 10
Eye On Education

SBBs: A Dying Breed?

Who are SBBs and what are they bringing to modern blood banks?

Many in the blood banking community consider specialists in blood banking technology (SBBs) to be a dying breed. Yet others wonder who the SBBs are and what skills they bring to the modern blood banking environment. This article hopes to address both issues.

Rapid changes in blood banking technology, budgetary issues and staffing shortages all create the need for a breed of leadership that can adapt to constant change, is open minded and will thrive in an environment of ever-changing rules and regulations.

So, it is no surprise that blood banking’s upper management is composed of SBBs. Where do these SBBs come from and how prepared are they for the challenges of the new century?

Online Solutions

Blood banking professionals usually become interested in the SBB certification as they enter the midpoint of their careers. For many who have not attained MT(ASCP) certification, the only route to become an SBB is to successfully complete a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredited specialist in a blood bank technology program. For many, however, it simply is not possible to leave a job to devote a year to training. A decrease in SBB programs in certain parts of the country in recent years also has made pursuing such programs extremely difficult. According to the AABB 2003 to 2004 Directory of United States SBB Education Programs, Louisiana and Texas are the only two states west of Mississippi that offer such courses.

To become certified, professionals from the western part of the United States, until recently, not only had to leave their jobs, but also relocate to attend school.

But the Internet revolution of the 1990s brought a dramatic improvement to this bleak picture. According to the AABB directory, three online programs are offered: University of Illinois at Chicago, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Thanks to these programs, professionals need not relocate to attend SBB schools. These yearlong programs can be completed from home without the unnecessary burden of uprooting the entire family.

Inadequate Questions

How in demand are SBBs in today’s market? A recent issue of ADVANCE showed 11 advertisements for blood bank openings. Two of them were for supervisors and both required an SBB certification. This small sample demonstrates that SBBs are sought after for management positions.

Does SBB certification actually mean the candidate is well-prepared to be a manager of a 21st century blood bank? I am afraid the answer is no. According to the ASCP Board of Registry Web site, only 10 percent of SBB exams focus on laboratory operations and 18 percent focus on transfusion practice questions.

These two categories may contain management questions. The remaining 72 percent of the exam consists of technical and general knowledge questions, usually covering obscure knowledge without any real-life value. Important aspects for today’s managers, such as Six Sigma, Lean, balanced score cards or legal aspects of running a blood bank, are absent from the test material.

Staying Abreast

What positions are held by SBBs? At Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle, for example, the Transfusion Service consists of 105 employees, 10 of whom are SBBs.

One of the 10 is a manager, one is a supervisor, four are trainers and four are leads. This puts all our SBBs in leadership positions. One more interesting observation: two technologists obtained their certification this year; the rest more than 10 years ago.

There is no question that SBBs play an important role in the management of today’s blood banks. However, times are changing and this change has to be reflected in the test material with the addition of modern management topics.

Paul Matusewicz is a senior technologist at Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle. He can be reached at paulm@psbc.org.

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