Wanna Buy a Credential?
Since the ASCP took over the popular and progressive NCA in 2009, I have periodically received emails from medical lab professionals not happy with the merger for various reasons. Prompted by this overwhelming response, I have previously blogged about this subject. I have also addressed the mixed response to the move.
Recently I have been receiving emails again, but in much larger numbers this time around. One particularly distressed email writer has prompted me to address the issue once more. This laboratorian (an NCA certificant with credentials converted to MLS by ASCP) indicated that she missed the February deadline for recertification with ASCP and received a dunning letter telling her she was no longer licensed (sic) by ASCP.
She is currently unemployed and is worried that when she applies for a job and a prospective employer tries to verify her credentials they will see that NCA is defunct and ASCP will say she is "not licensed."
To address her issue I first have to reiterate that those of us in the profession often misuse and/or misunderstand 3 terms with very different meanings. The uses of "licensed/not licensed" above are direct quotes from this lady.
Certification is a voluntary credential offered by a nongovernmental agency. Generally you have to have a certain academic qualification and may need to sit an exam. On meeting those requirements, you get certified. The most common certifications we have been familiar with over the years include MT, CLS and now MLS (and related credentials). All these are voluntary even if industry standards say you must have those to have a reasonably good chance of getting hired. Credentials are not mandatory
Licensure is a governmental requirement that an individual must meet in order to carry out an activity. Think about a hunting license or a driver's license. It is illegal to carry out certain activities without them. There are only a few states that currently have professional licensure for medical lab science. States may choose to offer their own exams, they may accept licensure from another state (reciprocity or waiver); or they may even choose to "deem" a certification as equivalent to licensure. In any event, if you dont have a piece of paper from the state, you do not have a license.
You must have a license to practice in the state, you must renew your license periodically, it can be revoked, it can expire and you can be criminally charged if you practice without it. Think about physicians, attorneys, nurses, pharmacists to understand this concept.
The lady referenced above, like many laboratorians I have talked to, incorrectly refer to an ASCP "license." The ASCP is not a state of the union. You cannot be forced to get an MT, MLT or MLS and will not be arrested and charged if you try to work without an ASCP credential.
Membership is voluntary association with like individuals for a common good. Think of the Boy Scouts or your church or social club. There are some requirements for membership, but joining is voluntary and (generally) so is the option to discontinue membership. Membership may address common interests, but does not offer any special professional right to practice. You can practice whether you are a member of an organization or not.
What complicates matters is that over the years several professional entities have "double dipped" and tried to offer both certification and membership e.g. ASCP and AMT. It is important to realize these organizations have chosen to offer 2 services each. The defunct NCA offered just certification (and recertification through demonstrated competency). It did not offer membership. ASCLS offers membership only; it does not offer certification.
The distress of my correspondents (the lady above is only one of several) is that ASCP is now threatening to revoke their certification unless they pay a fee. If an employer inquires and a credentialed individual has not sent in their check, ASCP will indicate the lapsed individual is "invalid" and not certified.
Think about your college telling you if you don't contribute to their alumni fund you can no longer claim to have a bachelor's degree from the college. ASCP says give me a couple hundred dollars (for recertification and reinstatement) or you can no longer use our credentials after your name. Without it we will tell those who enquire that you are not certified.
It seems to me a more accurate and honest designation would be "lapsed" or "did not recertify" or even "not currently on active register."
Without this distinction (not certified versus credentialed but not currently paid up), I am totally sympathetic to those who see recertification as a financial burden (separate from competency assurance); or a demand to pay for the privilege of using a credential. If you don't pay, you cannot use the credential which you earned honestly. It is difficult to choose not to pay up because without the credential it is difficult to obtain or retain a job.
This is surely an emotional subject if the individuals emailing me are typical. What's your take on this issue?