Why we do what we do

Sept. 21, 2017

I’m writing this in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the national attention directed at those natural disasters has gotten me thinking—first, about how the political and other divisions that roil our country these days tend to recede into the background at such times; and second, about the unselfishness and compassion that Americans—not all Americans, of course, but very significant numbers of us—show in such times of crisis. The news footage of people in canoes rescuing their neighbors who were stranded in flooded homes was especially dramatic, but for each dramatic rescue, there must have been hundreds of unheralded act of kindness.

I am also thinking of the heroism of the first responders and essential medical personnel, many of whom stayed behind in evacuation zones to provide assistance as soon as humanly possible after the worst of the storms had passed. I am thinking about hospital staff who stayed with patients who could not be moved to provide care. These healthcare workers included laboratorians in many places, of course.

Which got me thinking about a different kind of heroism—the daily heroism of people whose work is to serve others, not just in times of crisis, but at all times. It is important for me to remember that the people who read Medical Laboratory Observer are everyday heroes. That’s easy to forget—and not just for me, but for them, too. I suspect that, in the daily course of activities and obligations and, yes, irritations, some of you may lose sight of the fact that yours is not “just a job”—that there is a core of humanitarianism and compassion in everything you do.

Why did you become a clinical laboratory scientist? Certainly, it is a good career, a job in which you can be challenged and grow, while at the same time (in most cases) building up job security and with it a stable income and a decent life for yourself and your loved ones. But I doubt that there are many reading this who weren’t at least partly motivated by the desire to be part of a healthcare team, part of the system that delivers healthcare to large numbers of people, healthcare that must begin with accurate diagnoses and that often requires ongoing monitoring of “labs” of many types.

And I think that is also why you remain in the profession even though, of course, there are stressors of many kinds from time to time: compensation issues, coworker-related challenges, short staffing, budget cuts, challenging technologies, regulatory requirements. All of these and more can add tension to your work, but my interactions with laboratorians have assured me that, at the end of long days and in challenging times, they rely on the idealism that helped to bring them into the profession in the first place.

MLO doesn’t have a “Your Turn” type of section, where readers are specifically invited to share their experiences in the profession with their peers. We have run some articles like that in my time as editor, but we haven’t specifically advertised for them. Let me do so now. Do you have a particular experience you’d like to share? Some general reflections? Put it down on paper, and send it to me at [email protected], and we’ll be glad to consider your writing for publication.

Also, consider nominating your lab for “Lab of the Year” for 2018. The online nomination period will begin in early December and continue until January 10; more details will be upcoming.