As Long as You Don’t Call my Instrument a Machine
had witnessed this situation many times before, but I still paid attention. "It’s an instrument, not a machine,
stupid,” the MLS yelled to the entire room in general, and no one in particular, as she hung
up the phone. angrily. When questioned she explained that a physician had called wanting to know if
the “troponin machine” was calibrated because he seemed to be getting high values
on his ED patients this evening.
I recalled how upset many laboratorians get at the equipment nomenclature. In
this case she could have decided to rerun controls, explain the issue might be
the patient population: patients presenting with chest pain in the ED, troponin requested on symptomatic patients to make a differential diagnosis . She might also have legitimately explained that of all the troponin tests done that shift only 2 had been elevated. But
instead she took umbrage at the terminology “machine.”
name is certainly important. For example, I resent being called a tech, techinician,
technologist or “the lab.” I recoil when laboratorians are mistaken for nurses, or I , as an older male, am presumed to be a doctor. I do not like being considered a person who pushes buttons
and if my “machine” is calibrated, all I have to do is read the number off the screen
or a printout. But I do not care if that big hulking piece of metal which I use to generate results is called Bob,
Mary, an instrument or a machine.
a pilot, their airplane is a machine and instruments are parts of the machine
that give information and help to fly the plane. To a surgeon, instruments are the
tools of their trade (scalpel, retractors, clamps) while machines (ventilators,
monitors) maintain patient function or provide vital information about the patient’s
status. To others in healthcare, like respiratory therapists, the terms machine and instrument are in fact interchangeable. The point is: machines can be very sophisticated contraptions that perform
some very vital functions. No other profession I can think of gets as
anal and defensive about this innocuous distinction.
a profession our career path is very compressed, there is overlap of scopes of
practice between professionals and paraprofessionals, other professions legally co-opt
the right to perform laboratory testing. We do not have professional licensure
in most states. Our scope of practice is not protected. The public we serve is
not aware of our education, value or role in healthcare. Why don’t we expend our
energy on changing these anomalies?
do we gain professionally if our tools are addressed respectfully as “instruments”?
Certainly we have bigger fish to fry that
getting all bent out of shape because someone outside the profession refers to
one of our tools as a machine?