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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

I Used to be a Lab Tech

Published March 6, 2009 8:25 AM by Glen McDaniel
At dinner a few nights ago, I met the CEO of a local healthcare organization and his wife. He quickly let me know he practiced medicine for years. His wife told me they met while she was a nurse at a local hospital and was therefore pretty familiar with healthcare administration, she emphasized.

I was made aware once again how quickly nonlaboratorians identify themselves with their primary profession even years after a career change. It seems laboratorians who have left the laboratory setting will proudly associate themselves with their current profession. With prompting, they might admit, "I worked in the lab,"  "I used to be a lab tech" or "I was a med tech back then." Why is that?

If physician-CEOs and nurse-administrators wear their clinical training as a badge of honor, why don't we?

In my forays outside of the laboratory and moving up the administrative ladder, I have always proudly proclaimed my clinical laboratory origins. I have also drawn on certain valuable skills such as the ability to ingest and simplify large amounts of data, cope with change and meet regulatory requirements without blinking an eye--skills which I learned in the laboratory.

Besides, I have also noticed laboratorians apply a sort of critical thinking not universal among administrators with a purely business or healthcare management background. We really should be proud of our origins.

11 comments

I can't wait until the day I can say, "I used to be a lab tech"

Ryan , MT April 12, 2009 10:28 AM
Buffalo NY

Brian:

Excellent comments. Thanks for weighing in.  The profession of clinical lab science does teach us many transferable skills that stand us in good stead inside and outside the clinical laboratory.

To most laboratorians competencies like critical thinking and analysis are second nature which make laboratorians approach problem solving in unique ways.

Paul:

With the current personnel shortage, I have no doubt you would be a welcome and valuable asset to many a laboratory.

A few months ago, a reader asked a similar question about preparation for returning to the profession of  clinical lab science after taking an extended "vacation" to fulfil family obligations.

My answer relates to California since that's where she lives, but the suggestions sre generally applicable for anyone re-entering the profession.

This is the link to that blog titled Clinical Lab Science Still Competitive

http://community.advanceweb.com/blogs/mt_2/archive/2008/05/28/clinical-lab-science-still-competitive.aspx

Glen McDaniel March 24, 2009 12:17 AM

I find that many techs are somewhat unhappy with the profession current rating among other medical professions. However, I believe this is an opportunity to innovate. I think that lab professionals ideas are often overlooked because of a lack of initiative and presistence. For those of us who move on to other positions should reflect back on the lab to help implement new ideas just like the physician-CEO and nurse-administrator.

Brian, CLS March 21, 2009 11:13 AM

I worked as an MT for almost 8 years and have been out of the field for 7 years.  Now I am thinking of getting back to the lab part time or per diem but Im coming up against road blocks because I've been out of the lab 'so long' in many employers eyes.  I know I am able to pick up with a little training, but how am I supposed to get into a job, when the requirements are so tough? Isn't there supposed to be shortage of Techs here in the Puget Sound?

Paul Kim, MT March 20, 2009 2:36 AM
Bellevue WA

There may still be many "old-schoolers" out there who believe that new laboratory professionals won't do their job worth a hoot unless they are "toughened up" (perhaps more like "sped up" so that they can be as efficient as a colleague with 30 years' experience, which disturbingly seems to be a higher priority than producing accurate results in at least the first place I worked as a MT/CLS).  They need to realize that especially new Generation Y colleagues will not put up with a "pressure-cooker" work atmosphere that involves constant criticism rather than teamwork and positive motivation to constantly improve in their new positions!  Life is too short to deal with the health problems that result from such stress, and employees who are not shown good "internal" customer service by their veteran co-workers will work their rear end off to find a job where they ARE treated like a capable and trusted professional.  For those "old" technologists who have not yet figured it out, this translates into CONSTANT TURNOVER of positions in your laboratory/department!

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center March 18, 2009 5:13 AM
Danville VA

Michele:

I am sorry  to hear of your unfortunate experience. You know they say that clinical laboratorians eat their young! But interestingly I have heard other professionals like nurses say the same thing about how they treat young professionals.

I suspect it's because those in the profession feel they have paid their dues and others should as well. There is an element of "misery loves company" and possibly an atempt to toughen up new comers. Who knows?

In this case I suspect you were treated so shabbily because of corporate greed and the need to minimize the organization's risk and financial exposure. That certainly was unfortunate.

Glen McDaniel March 17, 2009 6:41 PM
Atlanta GA

I'm proud of our profession and the manner in which we contribute to healthcare.  Yes, we are often confused with other professions, "Oh, your a vampire!".

I also believe that we often don't support one another within the profession.  I developed a  penicillium mold allergy in a lab where penicillium mold was found growing in the emergency shower. My supervisor and the company environmental specialist(a former med tech) worked against me with the help of the company's worker's comp doctor to cover up and clean up the incident.  I find we are often consumed with job security above our integrity as science professionals.

Michele Scanlon, , medical tech unemployed March 16, 2009 4:15 PM
Melbourne FL

When I was a student in San Francisco many years ago, I was riding in an elevator talking with my fellow trainees when a visitor said to us "You go to college to work in the Lab? I didn't know that!"

It made me think and feel sad that there are many people, that do not give us the respect due us because we as CLSs do not respect ourselves either.  

I love CSI because the show attempts to show that there are people behind the results.

But, I hate HOUSE because it shows Doctors doing lab tests?  In what world except the TV????

We need to laud ourselves because our profession is an integral part in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

C

C C, Senior CLT March 13, 2009 2:22 AM
San Jose CA

I used to be a medical technologist as well. Now I'm in the medical device industry. The clinical laboratory training is essential and crucial to who I'm and what I become today. Without the part of my professional life, I would not be in the industry I'm at. Med Tech is among one of the health care providers. Our existence is as critical as any other health care professionals. For that reason

Peggy Chan, Medical Device - Application Specialist March 10, 2009 1:39 PM
Redmond DC

Both "lab tech" and "medical technologist" are especially prone to being misunderstood, I find.

Part of the reason is that these terms are so generic and vague. For example Med Tech is often mistaken for EMT, medical assistant or even surgical assistant. "Oh you help the doctor with surgery?" I was once asked. The "MT" on my business card was once mistaken for "massage therapist"

I find "clinical lab scientist" much more descriptive and appropriate. I might still have to explain the analytical nature of the work and the critical thinking skills involved, as well as the education required, but most people can guess what a CLS is.

Rather than "I work in a hospital lab" or "I test blood and urine samples", I give examples of how the results are used and how physicians depend on us to make diagnosis or treatment.

For example I might explain a culture in terms of not just identifying not just the bacteria but the most effective antibiotic to prescribe. If their eyes have not glazed over at that point, I throw in "over 70 % of  objective clinical decisions are made based on lab data."

It can be a daunting process and I must adnit I dont press the point with everyone, but I have found some success and interest once I explain the intricacy and the importance of our work.

Glen McDaniel March 6, 2009 4:03 PM

I have to admit that I hesitate to reveal my lab tech status, mostly because I'm tired of the blank stares I receive from people, and I get weary of trying to explain what it is I do.

S March 6, 2009 10:58 AM

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