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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Representing all laboratorians as “lab techs” hurts the profession

Published May 30, 2016 9:13 PM by Glen McDaniel

A few months ago I went to the doctor with a friend.  The nice young lady taking my friend’s vitals and medical history introduced herself as “Dr. O’s nurse”. I noticed her name badge read “RMA”- registered medical assistant. She was professional, competent and very friendly, but I wondered why she would represent herself as a nurse, when she clearly was not. 

Just last week a nurse manager enquired why the “lab techs” in one particular clinic did not perform tests while others in the multi-facility organization did. Most of the clinics that she was familiar with had  laboratories with medical technologists/medical lab scientists. The smaller clinics, like the one she mentioned, were staffed with phlebotomists who collected samples and shipped them off to the laboratory for testing.  The phlebotomists she questioned explained that they were “not allowed” to perform testing; without explaining the difference in competency and scope of practice between a phlebotomist and an MLS. To the nurse, they were all  the lab or “lab techs.”

In the laboratory, the individual the customer (patient, public, doctor, nurse)sees most often -or speaks to first on the phone- is not a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) or CLT, but a phlebotomist or customer service representative. I have overheard such individuals overtly misrepresent themselves as  “lab technicians”, or at least not correct others who assume they are clinical laboratorians. 

It does a dis-service to the profession and the customer if those we serve receive or act on incorrect or incomplete information from someone they presume to be an MLS. I think it also damages our image as a profession long-term when we let others in the health care assume everyone who is associated with medical lab science is a “lab tech” or can be accurately lumped together under the generic term “the lab”.

In some states at least it is illegal for a non-nurse to represent him or herself as a nurse. In most settings, registered nurses insist on making clear the difference in expertise, education and scope between registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). While there might appear to be a degree of elitism in that move, it is a very legitimate distinction that can only help patients, doctors and the profession itself.

 I think the same distinction about scope and levels of practice should be clearly articulated to our customers.  For one it would avoid lots of frustration and  unrealistic expectations from those we serve.

5 comments

Kelly: I am an MLT (ASCP). Have been for almost 40 years. I have an associate's degree in medical laboratory science, which is 2 years of college classes and clinical training. For the record, for my entire career, I have performed the same kind of testing (high complexity) as MTs. Furthermore, my education is equivalent to that of an RN ADN. While the curriculum differs, the type of education is the same- core classes, classes in laboratory sciences, and clinical training. Perhaps we need to educate each other in what our titles encompass.

As far as "lab tech", people assume that anyone from the lab is a lab tech, be they phlebotomist, registrar or lab assistant or tech. We are definitely the hidden profession. Compared to the nursing profession, we have fewer job opportunities because people are unaware of our job responsibilities and education. The recent proposal by CMS only highlights this. We need to band together as professionals and make our voices heard, starting with our certifying agencies. Once that aspect is consolidated, we can present a stronger, more unified front to the government agencies.

Michelle, MLT September 1, 2016 4:31 PM
OH

Very important to educate the public on the differences in Tech and Technologist. Basically, Tech requires two or less years of education or training; whereas, Technologist generally refer to a bachelor (four year) college degree.  LPN-same thing. One year training as opposed to 2-year registered nursing training- and BSN - a four-year bachelor degree nursing.  Very important difference and important to give the respect and pay due for the education. The public and patients should be told the difference.  

Kelly , Cytotechnology - CT (ASCP), Hospital August 23, 2016 3:12 PM
Summerville SC

I agree with your premise that we should articulate the difference between the different job titles in the lab. The problem is we don't do it ourselves. Within the lab we differentiate between phlebotomists and lab techs. We don't acknowledge the difference between an MLT and MLS. Everywhere I have worked there is always been a low level of hostility between MLTs and MLSs. The hostility towards MLSs is so great in my current lab that I fear retaliation if anyone found out I wrote this comment. My job description and responsibilities as an MLS are different than my MLT coworkers. We need to be able to say this within our lab walls before we expect recognition outside the lab.

Mary, MLS June 14, 2016 11:06 AM

Great post.

I have found labs to be poor educators. Doctors, nurses, and patients just don't know what we do. That does not mean they would not be interested. I have made it a priority to round and visit nurses daily to put a face and personality on the lab, hopefully clearing some of the mystery.

Scott Warner June 5, 2016 5:05 AM

We could start by standardizing laboratory licensure across ALL states - instead of 13 or 14 states having their own license. ALL educational programs and health care HR departments should also get on the same page about bachelor's degree holding lab professionals who perform testing holding the title of "MEDICAL LABORATORY SCIENTIST" instead of "Med Tech." :)

Stephanie Mathis, MLS(ASCP), Chemistry - Medical Laboratory Scientist, Covance Clinical Trials June 4, 2016 4:17 PM
Springfield NJ

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