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Vital Signs:
Medical technologist Betty Ward is a walking history of DHMC's clinical laboratories

One might expect an 80-year-old woman who's lived her whole life in Hanover and worked at the same place for 52 years to be misty-eyed about the past. Meet Elizabeth "Betty" Ward, currently the longest-serving DHMC employee: she exhibits the laconic speech and telltale "ayuh" of the archetypal New Englander, but walks faster than she talks and is not one to glorify the past.

When Ward started working in the clinical labs in 1952, "everyone had to do everything," she recalls. "Now we are all departmentalized. . . . You don't come into contact with the other folks in the laboratory the way you used to." But, she adds, "I find it better to be specialized. It's very difficult to keep on top of things if you have so many different areas you have to deal with."

Photo by Flying Squirrel Graphics
Betty Ward goes the distance on the trail—still with a full pack at age 80—just as she has for 52 years in the clinical lab.

For Ward, change has been a constant. As has the good humor with which she's embraced it. For example, midway through her career, "we went to disposable everything. . . . It took a while to get used to, like using plastic petri dishes after using these big clunky glass ones. They were always flying!" Ward laughs as she pantomimes handling the lightweight plasticware but adds that disposable equipment "is ever so much safer of course."

A graduate of the now-defunct Mary Hitchcock School of Medical Technology, Ward has served over the years as technical director of MHMH's clinical lab, as educational coordinator of the medical technology program, and as an instructor in the medical students' parasitology labs. Today, she continues to offer informal tutorials for medical students and residents who want more background in parasitology. "Occasionally," says Elmer Pfefferkorn, Ph.D., a longtime professor of microbiology, "students will find something puzzling during their microscopy of a clinical specimen. When I'm puzzled, too, it's a relief to be able to appeal to a higher authority."

Ward's matter-of-fact attitude toward change pervades her personal life as well. An avid outdoorswoman who once built her own frame backpack out of oak and canvas, she says that "when I first started doing backpacking, the pack would weigh about, oh, I don't know, 48 pounds." But for an expedition she was planning in the Big Horn Mountains, she notes, "I'm hoping for like 35— or 32 would even be better." J.D.

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