Do one thing to promote the lab profession

Feb. 1, 2010

As we begin the second decade of the 21st century,
clinical laboratory testing has never been more important in the
diagnosis and treatment of the patients we serve. Prior to considering
medical laboratory science (MLS) as a profession, my only inkling of MLS
was the phlebotomist and the “Authorized Personnel Only” sign on the
door at the end of the hospital corridor, as I suspect is the case for
most of the American public — and perhaps even some in the medical

Early in my career I was fortunate to work with
mentors who imparted the concepts of being a “professional,” and with
that came the pledge to always keep the patients first, take
responsibility for my own actions, and — just as importantly — support
the laboratory profession. Throughout my career, I have noticed four
falsehoods that we, as lab professionals, must challenge: 1) doing what
we do is easy; 2) anyone can do it; 3) lab work is repetitive, boring,
and unexciting; and 4) our efforts make little difference in the long

While these myths often come from outside our
profession, many of us inside the profession are guilty of some of the
following proclamations: “No one understands what I do.” Or “What can I
alone do to change anything?” And “What we have done before has never
worked, so why bother?” We want to be recognized for our efforts by the
public, patients, nurses, physicians, and legislators, but most of us
make ourselves invisible. We need to increase our visibility and take on
the responsibility of supporting the growth of the lab profession.

This revolution requires a paradigm-shift, and it
begin with an individual and collective effort to promote the
value of our role in patient care.
I challenge all medical laboratory professionals to do one thing
every month
to “provide the face” of the lab profession. Since July
2009 when I began my tenure as president of the American Society for
Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS), I have been collecting stories
shared by members that demonstrate how easy
it is to put this proposal into action.

Christine Hostetter, an education coordinator from
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, took the initiative to alert an
organizer of remembrance services for families whose newborns died at
the hospital to include the pathology staff. She wrote: “The miracle of
birth, with happy and sad outcomes, is one where laboratory
professionals serve. Beginning with specimen collection and
transportation and then from the pregnancy test, to the delta 450, cell
counts, transfusions, and microbiology cultures, to the fetal
fibronectin, the fetal lung maturity tests, and more, all the way to
sensitive autopsies, laboratory professionals journey with the mothers,
their babies, and their families.” She went on to make sure future
services will include members of the pathology lab.

An ASCLS member from Minnesota was surrounded by wedding
attendees eagerly listening to her explanation of H1N1 testing. In Kansas,
one colleague explained to children at her church that medical lab
professionals are people who help strangers when they are sick, which later
became part of the sermon to help educate the adults as well. Kyle Riding
(MA) was in a car accident, and while talking to the state trooper,
discovered the officer's son was interested in a medical science field, so
Kyle gave him information about MLS. Mary Lashinski (AK) discussed with
fellow jurors why it takes so long to get results back for some lab tests.
Melissa Sholl (SC), Kyle Riding (MA), and Deb Rodahl (MN) answered the
oft-proclaimed complaint, “Nurses do not understand us,” by becoming
involved in opening up communications with nursing leadership in their
institutions to facilitate improved patient care. In April, ASCLS colleagues
in Idaho will be spending National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week
(NMLPW) supporting the Idaho Food Bank, with point persons already set in
every participating laboratory.

How can you get started? Do one thing every month
to “provide the face” of the lab profession. Share ideas with colleagues
at your local, state, and regional professional society meetings and
newsletters. Plan at least one
NMLPW activity that will take you beyond your facility's walls, as the
ASCLS-NJ colleagues did last April by holding up a NMLPW banner in New
York City's Rockefeller Plaza for the “Today Show.” Do one thing
to demonstrate your pride this profession, too.

You may not have your names listed on the roster of
ASCLS's promotion of the profession committee, but I hereby pronounce
you all members. You are no longer a behind-the-scenes professional.
Share your wisdom with the community. Refuse to be called “a room.” Make
clear to legislators that patient care is compromised by the use of
untrained, uncertified, unlicensed personnel. Explain how the efforts of
skilled, qualified lab professionals can change lives.

A strong, concerted effort toward national visibility is essential if
the concerns about the personnel shortage, patient safety, and
legislation are ever to be effectively addressed. We need to begin this
new decade with a commitment to our profession and its professionals to
be recognized, respected, and treasured. Share your “provide the face”
stories with me at [email protected] .