Campus News Campus Spotlight Health & Wellness

UHC lab manager strives to be ‘part of the answer’

Lori Tinnell is lab manager at the University Health Center. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Lori Tinnell finds answers in the tests she runs

Lori Tinnell sees something special in science.

“To put a suspension of an organism in a test tube, and put it in a machine, and have it spit out which drugs are susceptible or not … that’s magic,” she said.

Tinnell always has been interested in science. Even in high school, she knew that’s what she wanted to study and pursue as a career. She grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and was particularly interested in the University of South Alabama’s allied health program. After completing her bachelor’s degree in medical technology, she got a job at a nearby hospital in microbiology. A few years later, she transitioned to a position in infection prevention and control at a different hospital during the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Eventually, Tinnell decided to stay at home to raise her four children. After her husband was transferred to a company in Athens, a friend from her first job mentioned that the University Health Center had an open position. She’s been with the UHC for 12 years and is in her fourth year as lab manager.

“It has provided a very good work-life balance for me personally,” she said.

Tinnell said that health care departments can be extremely siloed, but the UHC has made concerted efforts over the last few years to be more integrated in its services. As a result, she enjoys the many opportunities she has to work with others. It also provides a more wholistic picture of each patient.

The behind-the-scenes aspect to lab work appeals to Tinnell. She still finds its evolution fascinating—particularly how tests that used to take her two days can now be done in 45 minutes. The key is knowing the right resources to use to find what is needed and keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry. Additionally, Tinnell appreciates the “teachable moments” the UHC naturally provides—both to educate students about health care systems and to have students working in her lab.

“I’m able to be part of the answer but not in the spotlight,” she said. “Being part of the answer has always been rewarding.”

In addition to overseeing the lab, Tinnell stays up-to-date on all of her certifications to perform tests herself. But her day can include everything from human resources to IT to maintenance to procurement.

“For the people working in the lab, I try to make their work life as smooth as possible, and we try to make the patient’s lab experience as smooth as possible, too,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, aspects of Tinnell’s role changed. Her lab took on more responsibility, including symptomatic COVID-19 testing, and she needed to become creative with her resources.

“UGA was extremely receptive of absolutely everything I asked for in the most expeditious way possible,” she said. “I’ve tried to be a good steward of what I asked for. They were all very gracious to work with and very helpful.”

Tinnell still loves the problem-solving and troubleshooting of working as a lab technologist, but what she enjoys most about her work is the relationships.

“It matters that you have a relationship with your co-workers in every department, the providers and even other places on campus, and that students get some glimpse of how we benefit them by being here,” she said.

However, there is still one item on this lab manager’s professional bucket list. Specifically, she’d love to tour some of the labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Personally, she hopes to do more traveling.

Outside of work, Tinnell spends as much time as she can with her family—especially visiting stadiums to watch college football. She also enjoys refinishing furniture when she has time.

But in her lab, Tinnell said it’s all about integrity.

“We’re giving our absolute best,” she said. “That’s how labs work—they have to be true, they have to be done right, and they have to be consistent, and I think that’s my personality, too.”