A Rose By Any Name
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.