How to Raise a Laboratorian
I met Jason at a local volunteer event. While we waited for the official set-up we exchanged pleasantries. At 19 years old, Jason is in his second year of college studying pre-pharmacy. When I suggested that pharmacy is a growing field with expanding scope of practice and great growth opportunity, Jason said almost dejectedly, "That's what everyone says."
We performed our civic duty and broke for lunch as Jason found his way to me again. He told me that in high school he was very good at science and math. He enjoyed experimentation and knew he wanted a career in science. Even though he also enjoyed tinkering with electronics, he felt unfulfilled because it was not biological in nature.
I found out that his guidance counselor had steered him towards studying pharmacy largely because of the money to be made. To his credit, he wanted more from a career. During career day at his high school he recalled hearing from a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, engineer, computer scientist and psychologist.
When he thought about pharmacy he felt no passion. He knew he wanted to "discover evidence" and so briefly considered becoming a forensic scientist or "a researcher of some sort", but he knew he also wanted to have his findings used in a more immediate way to make a difference right away.
I told him about medical laboratory science and his e yes lit up. "I thought lab technicians were trained on the job to help doctors, and not very well paid. You mean I can get a college degree, test human specimens and have the results used to make diagnosis?"
Over the next couple of weeks we talked by phone several times and this young man has decided on his own to change his major to medical laboratory science. "This is something I could be passionate about and really get into," he said. "I even like that name; I could tell everyone I am a medical scientist!."
I couldn't explain to him, why this professional option is such a well-kept secret. Why wasn't an MLS on the list of speakers at his high school? How come no one he encountered ever suggested the option of studying MLS? Where did he ever get the idea that clinical laboratorians are merely OJT hand-maidens and man-servants of physicians?
If we are to backfill the coming vacancies in medical lab science we have to start educating high school counselors and speaking to students from the elementary level about the work we do and the education required. I have heard too many stories of individuals who stumbled into the profession through a casual, incidental conversation.
We have to deliberately raise bright new laboratorians to carry on the torch as we retire and become (e-gads!) patients in need of care ourselves.