Letters to the editor

Jan. 1, 2004
Useful reading

Thank you for the online edition of your publication. I have always enjoyed the MLO and find it easy reading and useful in my career, from a rural hospital generalist to a POL manager.

Pamela Wolf
Laboratory Manager
Urgent Care West
Vero Beach, FL

What stinks?
In response to Personal hygiene in the workplace (July 2003, Management Q&A, p. 50), something that may need to be considered is that personal hygiene may not be responsible for the employees offensive odor. There are hormones, especially in women, which can
cause excessive odor no matter how hygienic a person is. Diet may also be factor. I worked with one such individual in a hospital lab whose diet consisted of very spicy foods, and [who] smelled very strongly of cumin. I personally was not offended because I knew that it was a food essence and not bad hygiene. However, other culturally uneducated staff assumed that the employee was dirty, and they were rude. The individual eventually left.

With the United States diverse cultures, foods, and pollution, its hard for me to imagine that human senses havent learned to tolerate more. A laboratory of all places is not a flower garden. Anyone who works with stool, urine, sputum, semen, and countless other body fluids should be able to tolerate a basic and not to mention a primal human marker: our smell. 

Nancy C. Watson MLT(ASCP)
Tri-State Hematology/Oncology
Ashland, KY

Fast food for thought
In an editorial, (August 2003, The magic in fairy tales, p. 6), you pondered over the shortage of laboratory technologists, and I would like to share my opinions with you. I work at a large hospital laboratory where there are a variety of lab jobs, from entry-level technicians to senior research assistants. Over the years, automation has made many of these jobs simpler, faster, and more repetitive. The modern laboratory more closely resembles an assembly line factory than a creative research facility.
Long ago, I worked in the fast food business, and todays lab is not all that far from serving bushels of French fries and flipping hundreds of burgers. Except for a few specialty positions, laboratory science has devolved into a job rather than a career. That doesnt belittle the responsibility we have to do good work; it simply illustrates why people dont view this field with the eagerness that it used to invite.

What this suggests is that its time for a complete overhaul of our concept of what lab work is and what our expectations should be. Without going into any detail, I can envision two career tracks: one for those who want to go into a highly complex laboratory environment and stay there for many years; and one for those who want a temporary job much like working at a burger hut. Everyone is still required to do excellent work, but the expectations have changed to be more in line with whats really happening.

I myself have invested in building a second career (leading workshops) that is more satisfying while I approach early retirement age. This way I can have my cake and eat it, too.

This is a little fast food for thought.

William Frey, MT(ASCP), CPCC
UNC Health Care System
Chapel Hill, NC

Bread crumbs and Freud
I read your column on the shortage of clinical laboratory personnel, (August 2003, The magic in fairy tales, p. 6), with interest. I have been a professional laboratorian since 1966 and have no interest in retiring as long as Im able to continue working, and I agree that we are witnessing the aging of the national lab staff. It sometimes makes me angry when I think of the arrogance of those who permitted the technology programs to dry up, assuming that automation, robotics, and data processing would turn the laboratory into a home for low-paid attendants. Sort of like the notion that marginally trained assistants working as temps could replace nurses. As you suggest, where is the professionalism and the passion?

On a lighter note, however, I was struck by the first paragraph in your editorial. I guess it was Freudian. Actually, as you remember, the breadcrumbs that were dropped by Hansel and Gretel were eaten by birds causing them to become lost in the forest resulting in their ending up in the witchs house. It will take stones and rock-hard determination to lead us back to the familiar places that you recall. We need some of our best schools to re-establish high-quality technology programs in order to reinvigorate the profession.

Stuart Traster, MS, MT(ASCP) Director, Laboratory Services Kindred Hospital Philadelphia Philadelphia, PA ©
2004 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.