I didn’t grow up wanting to be a medical laboratory scientist. In fact, only until a few months before I started school to become one did I even know that the job existed. Like most people, I was completely oblivious to what happens to the tubes of blood taken from us after every doctor’s appointment. A career in medical laboratory science did not show up on my radar until I was looking for colleges. I was at a prospective student day at my now current alma mater and on a whim decided to go listen to the MLS program presentation because I had some extra time before the end of the event. Whether you believe this was a coincidence, fate, or even divine intervention, walking through that door was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was at that moment I fell in love with medical laboratory science and I can confidently say that entering this profession was the perfect choice for me.
Most of the people I have met have a story as to how they decided to enter the profession. Many can identify a person that introduced them to the field. The thing I’ve noticed, however, is that these people are rarely in the right place at the right time. I was lucky to have found out about medical laboratory science before I was enrolled in college, but that situation is rarely the norm. It is very typical for a person not to know about medical laboratory science until they are a few semesters into their college career. Some have even earned a degree or two before they begin school again for a MLS degree. With the workforce shortage we are facing, we can’t afford to wait around for people to figure out we exist before they decide to enter the field. We need to be proactive in educating people about our profession, especially those in middle and high school. Let’s get out of the lab and be the face for our profession. We need to be the lab heroes for the middle and high school students that love science but don’t know that a career in medical laboratory science could be the perfect fit for them. Many of us would have benefited from someone coming to talk to us in our high school science class about the profession, but unfortunately most of us didn’t have that opportunity. As current professionals, it is our responsibility to change that. We need to use our passion to ignite that same passion in the future generation of laboratory professionals.
While going out to schools and giving career presentations to students is one of the first things that come to mind when we think about promoting our profession, it is not the only way. There are many other things we can do to help remove the “hidden” component from our profession and Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is the perfect time to start. Lab Week is a time for us to recognize all the work we do all year long, but it also gives us the spotlight to present ourselves on a national stage. During Lab Week, we should have fun playing games and hosting potlucks, but we also need to go beyond the biohazard door. Use Lab Week as an opportunity to offer lab tours to nurses and other healthcare professionals and to host educational lab information booths in a public areas of the hospital. You can even consider inviting a local news station to the lab to do a story about lab week. With the new virtual lab week run/walk this year, you can even take your promotional activities outside. Take full advantage of Lab Week and use that as a starting point, but remember that there are 51 other weeks in a year too. You are not limited to lab week; promotion of the profession can occur any day of the year.
It is important to remember that opportunities to promote the profession are not confined to classrooms or the workplace. The annual American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) Legislative Symposium is a perfect example of an opportunity for all of us to engage with the legislative arm of our government to inform them about the issues important to our profession (e.g. licensure, scholarships, MLS program growth, and laboratory billing). Many lab professionals do not realize how intertwined the lab is with politics, and many of the people making the decisions that affect clinical labs are very unfamiliar with how the lab works. Even if you are unable to attend the Legislative Symposium, you can always email your senators and representative any day of the week. Social media also plays a huge role in allowing our profession to be seen as it gives us the ability to speak up about our profession to a global audience from the comfort of our own homes. Using hashtags such as, #lab4life raise awareness about the lab. There is a #lab4life 30 day social media challenge that offers a series of prompts to help get the conservation about the lab started, and this can be done anytime. These days sharing your passion for the lab is only a click away.
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Stephanie Noblit is a new professional medical laboratory scientist working at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in the medical toxicology lab.
NOTE: This article is originally Titled Revealing the “hidden profession that saves lives” as published by http://www.elsevier.com
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