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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

A Rose By Any Name

Published April 21, 2008 9:17 AM by Glen McDaniel

What's in a name? Does a rose by any other name smell just as sweet? In the very first regular column I wrote for ADVANCE in 1991 (September 30), I posed that question and proposed that our image as a profession is affected by the name we call ourselves.

The name "medical technology" as commonly used literally refers to the equipment, technique and state-of-the-art practice of medicine. It conjures up images of robotic arms, magic pills and surgery more than it does anything having to do with the clinical laboratory. The ambiguity inherent in this term has largely been responsible for the need to constantly answer the question "What exactly does a medical technologist do?"

I am amazed at the ongoing confusion of the term medical technologist with emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and the like in the public's mind. Even after many reminders, some of my friends and family insisted on calling me a lab tech, if for no other reason than (they claimed) it's a common term they didn't have to explain to others.

If you think that situation was frustrating, the umbrage was unbelievable when as a new laboratory supervisor, the "MT" on my brand new business card was interpreted as "massage therapist" by an innocent, if unsophisticated hostess at a party I attended.

With the increasing adoption of the preferred and more accurately descriptive terms clinical lab science/scientist by many, how much has changed?  I still hear laboratorians refer to themselves as "techs" and perpetuate the use of the same generic descriptions often used by nursing and others such as "someone from the lab," "lab person" or, simply, "the lab." 

Another interesting observation is that laboratorians who move on to careers outside the walls of the laboratory will often gladly dismiss their laboratory background as one would a seamy past: "back then I was a lab tech." Others, on the other hand, like doctors and nurses in executive positions, will often wear their doctor/nurse credential as a proud badge of honor, a value-added qualification, an asset, not a liability.

Using a strong descriptive moniker for ourselves will not increase our salary or give instant recognition, but it certainly will be a step in the right direction.

posted by Glen McDaniel

4 comments

Check out the comment from Carol Schwartz at the bottom of this page: http://www.labsarevital.com/main.taf?p=5,2,5

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Medical Staffing Network May 16, 2008 11:37 AM
Danville VA

A classmate of mine in "med tech" school in Winston Salem also resented this term for our occupation - and felt that doctors/nurses believed lab results were being turned out by "lab rats." At the time, I wondered why in the world she was even studying for this line of work if she felt so bitterly about how laboratory employees were perceived by other other health care professionals.  

I have to acknowledge that "clinical laboratory scientist" is a much more descriptive and professional job title than "med tech," though.  (By the way, "med tech" can also be short for "medication technician," those who pass medication out to nursing home residents. LOL)

I must wonder whether our low pay rate, lack of recognition, etc., may have as much to do with associate-degree holders (with not near as much in-depth, critical thinking study about why low or high abnormal test results translate to particular diagnoses as bachelor's degree holding CLS's must complete) also practicing in this field as it does with the US's several private certifying agencies.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to "pure-college" occupations as those in which at least 60% of employees age 25-44 hold at least a bachelor's degree. (See http://www.wistv.com/Global/story.asp?S=7572513)  I wonder what percentage of MLTs work in clinical laboratories across our fine country.  I have noticed that most larger hospitals are more likely to require MT/CLS certification in order to work in their labs than their smaller counterparts.

I have noticed other people's letters to the editors of Advance and Medical Laboratory Observer magazines recently, suggesting that a master's degree should be an entry-level requirement for medical laboratory professional positions.  Although I believe that may be a bit extreme, I think it may be a good idea to make the bachelor's degree/MT/CLS certification the bare minimum requirement for employment in reference labs and hospitals with 200 beds or greater.  I 've noticed that most physician's office labs tend to hire MLTs because they don't have to pay them quite as much as MTs anyway.

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Medical Staffing Network May 4, 2008 2:02 PM
Danville VA

I began to laugh while reading this blog b/c I can relate. No matter how many times I tell my family members, friends and associates what medical technologist do, they always ask.  Maybe Advance or one of the certifying agencies should do a t.v. commercial to support the medical technology profession. This commercial should explain what medical technologist do, show some of the work, express the need for more, offer ways to become one. Furthermore, I like the name Clinical Laboratory Scientist better than medical technologist.

Brian, Clinical Laboratory Scientist May 4, 2008 11:27 AM
TN

While I am in the process of completely moving on...(leaving the clin lab after  I am done with the post doc)...I will not completely dismiss being a lab tech...but while I will say the experience is a good one to have...I am not really sure that I will include it on my CV...as it is certainly no asset outside (or really even inside) the clin lab.

Glenn, Molecular - Dr, APS April 21, 2008 8:09 PM
Chicago IL

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