Coming Home

By: Ken Kosko

In 1997, the Air Force let me know that there were too many E-6 personnel in my career field, Security Forces. I had a chance to voluntarily select a new job classification, or I could wait out the process and run the risk of being volun-told. I opted for the voluntary option. The folks at Base Personnel gave me a list of open jobs that I was qualified to apply for based on my ASVAB scores that I attained prior to entering the service. There were many fascinating options available, but there was one job, with an intriguing title, and there was only one opening. Histopathology Apprentice stood out on the page. Somehow, I got selected for the only opening across the entire Air Force.

I retrained into the field at the Tri-Service School of Histopathology at the AFIP from 1997-98. I was immediately fascinated by the science, precision, perfection, and chemistry of the field and how all of that comes together as an integral part of patient care and diagnostics. Special stains became my favorite interest because of the intricacies of what occurred between the different tissue types, bonding, clearing and creating mordants.

My first few years in the field were rocky and difficult. I inherited, via my rank, the in-charge position over a broken lab with broken people and, as I would learn over my first six months, terrible practices and methods. Making matters worse, our lab supervisor was an ogre who saw only one way of operating—his. I learned the daily duties and tricks of the trade from my troops, who were inferior in rank, but far superior in the areas of experience and knowledge. I researched regulations (OSHA, AFOSH, CFR, EPA), picked apart the CAP checklist for a month, and began building, everything, from the bottom up. I gave up trying to reason with the ogre, and just pressed on.

I took a short break from the field in 2003 to fill in as a First Sergeant but returned to Histology in mid-December of the same year. I was assigned to the largest lab in the Air Force and one of the largest in DoD. Once again, I was told my lab was broken, morale was in the can, and they had just finished a less than stellar CAP inspection. I built people up, taught them, held seminars on weekends to increase knowledge, and taught them the importance of compliance and the need for perfection. We crushed CAP and had 9 benchmark practices noted.

I retired from active duty in 2006 and took a histology job in November that year. At the lab in Columbus GA, I was "just a tech" but delighted to be doing benchwork. It was far more peaceful than being a supervisor. It also allowed me to continue to hone my skills as a technician. While there, I redid their entire MSDS library and added cyto prep tech duties to my portfolio. After leaving there in May 2007, I decided I needed to do something different with my life. I spent the next decade or so, doing soul searching and exploring.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in education (GI Bill) and tried some different worlds out. I quickly learned that I did not enjoy the constraints and rigors that public education required. Private tutoring offered a great deal of freedom and limited number of students but did not offer benefits or regular income. Teaching Drivers Education was my favorite and I enjoyed it, but all the hours are in the evenings or on weekends. After a decade of experimenting and exploring, I was befuddled, confused, and sorely dismayed.

Desperate for a change and because I needed a job, I applied for a histology position at the VA in Salisbury, NC. I figured that, if nothing else, I at least know histology, and the hospital setting, and I would be helping veterans. Applying for a government job is one of the most trying, taxing and frustrating experiences you can exact upon yourself. I was determined and thus persisted. I made it through the selection process and had a phone interview with three people that lasted over an hour. I thought the interview went well but was shocked when I was offered the position the next day.

I started on the 15th of April of 2019, and I have never (and I really mean that) been happier at work than I am today. I have a renewed sense of passion for what I do and what my job means, and I love everything that histology represents. It took a decade away for me to realize how much I enjoy being a histology technician. Perhaps the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is true after all.

I joined NSH (finally) because I realized that I truly am a professional histologist at heart. The field and everything about it are my world and my happiness. I have now begun studying for my HT...and later I will take on the HTL. I know that NSH has a ton of material and resources that will help, and I will tap them soon. But that is not why I joined.

I joined NSH because of the camaraderie, the knowledge sharing, the tips, the pointers, the ideas, the suggestions, and the delightful commonality that all histotechs have. The passion that our members have for our field is rare, and it is both wonderful and admirable. I am ecstatic to be a part of this community again.

I have finally made it back home where I belong.

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