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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Spit Happens

Published November 3, 2008 10:41 AM by Glen McDaniel

I was speaking to a lady at a party recently and she mentioned her sister had "a bunch of saliva tests" done, and one of them indicated she was at risk for Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system cells attack the saliva- and tear-producing glands, causing them to become inflamed.

Knowing my professional background, she wanted to know how the test worked and was very disappointed and dismissive when I told her I knew nothing about the test and in fact there were very few "saliva tests" run in the typical clinical lab. I also said there were several laboratories that ran unorthodox non-FDA approved tests as part of health evaluations and "wellness testing" and I would be very wary of making life decisions based on such results. I recommended her sister see a doctor and have more traditional testing done.

Later I did some research and was surprised to find that, indeed, the National Institutes of Health is in fact doing research on using disease markers in saliva to possibly diagnose Sjögren's syndrome. Who knew?

I did learn there are laboratories dedicated to testing saliva for a variety of analytes from HIV to tumor markers to drugs and others.

As someone who prides themselves on being always "up" on what's happening in healthcare in general and CLS in particular, I was a little surprised and embarrassed at my lack of knowledge. I strongly advocate that clinical laboratorians remain current and be willing to speak as authoritatively as any other member of healthcare about topical issues. But I strongly believe it is always better to say an honest "I don't know" rather than give misleading information.


Thanks for your comments, Sarah Jo

A few years ago, one of my direct reports was a nursing supervisor who never let the facts stand in the way of her verbose opinion. In meetings, she always had an opinion on everything and eagerly sought to clarify doubts or answer any question, no matter which clinical area involved.

Whenever her "facts" proved incorrect she would say a simple "oh" and move on. Or, worse yet, argue why she was correct the undisputed fact was not "always true."

For whatever personal reason, she felt compelled to act as if she know everything all the time. I dont think she realized how little credibility she held among colleagues.

We can be at our most effective when we stay on top of the latest findings and confidently weigh in as eagerly as other professionals do, but still be honest and humble enough to say a simple "I dont know" when we really dont know.

Glen McDaniel November 18, 2008 4:45 PM

I agree, it is better to say "I don't know" than to "BS" your way through something like this. I have Sjogren's, and when I found out, I learned as much as I could about it. It could have told if some one was "BSing"

SARAH JO SLAY, Genenalist - BSMT,ACSP,NCA, SCRMC November 3, 2008 1:37 PM

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