Hassan Aziz, PhD, FACSs, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Past President
This is a memorable year in the history of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS). This year has been rather interesting for everyone when trying to handle their professional and personal life during a pandemic. In February of 2020, we were enjoying our annual Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference (CLEC) in Orlando and just beginning to hear about COVID-19 in the United States but had no idea what was in store for us in the months to come. No one anticipated what happened next. We have been through crises before—hurricanes, floods, and storms—all of which crippled local communities for a few days to a few weeks. This time, however, the challenges faced with the pandemic were endless, but so was the resilience of laboratory professionals and our Society. We all know about flexibility, adaptability, and modifying tasks, and I’m sure we all used those skills to help make it through the challenging times at work and home the past few months. In the same way, ASCLS has used those skills to keep pushing forward. ASCLS kept moving forward with the mantra, Things will never be the same.
At my presidential acceptance address last July, I emphasized the importance of “resiliency.” I talked about the three stages of a crisis: respond, in which we deal with the present situation and manage continuity; recover, during which we learn and emerge stronger; and thrive, where we prepare for and shape the “next normal.” I must say ASCLS has been truly resilient. ASCLS made the decision to push forward and to act. According to Amelia Earhart, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is tenacity.” As we review this year’s highlights of our collective achievements, it is clear that we have been tenacious. We were able to transform and build attitudes, beliefs, agility, and structures into our core mission and operation that enabled us to not just recover to where it was but vault forward quickly.
Strong Leadership, Dedicated Membership
A significant strength of ASCLS is the high caliber of the Board of Directors, which is critical when leading. During the past few months, the board has evolved. New ideas, processes, and innovation have elevated our engagement with both ASCLS members and the professional community. I am equally encouraged by the true loyalty, devotion, and allegiance of our ASCLS members who continue to volunteer to work on committees and forums, task forces, and other special projects. Thank you for what you have done and what you continue to do for this organization.
No matter what your role is, you are a member of the ASCLS team, and we need you. Your resilience and your tenacity are our strengths. If you want to eliminate social injustice … if you want to help promote the profession … if you want to make a generational impact … if you want to uplift your community … if you want to be part of the solution … this is your chance. Let’s rise together. Let’s soar together to new heights.
Diversity and Leadership Development
ASCLS is an inclusive, culturally relevant community of people acknowledging their differences and unique characteristics; it is an organization where all persons can engage and participate in a meaningful way empowering everyone to grow and learn. ASCLS is a grassroots, volunteer organization with members who possess different skill sets, abilities, and experiences. The Diversity Advocacy Council is championing the causes of our diverse membership. The council organized PRISM: Pride · Respect · Inclusion · Support · Momentum, which debuted in January 2021. The 2022 event was a series of virtual activities that culminated with a candid conversation with ASCLS Past President Scott Aikey.
When most people think of diversity, it’s race, gender, or age. But, when you look deeper, our diversity transcends those obvious physical traits. It’s our differences of thought, introverts vs. extroverts, the various academic majors, communication styles, cultures, and values that make us effective. Everyone’s voice is valued, whether it’s the president’s, committee chair’s or board member’s. The most important piece is creating the inclusive environment where each member can be their whole self, which is key to performing at our optimum levels.
The COVID-19 pandemic remains both a threat and an opportunity. It certainly is straining our workforce, its collective mental health, and its ability to participate in “extra” commitments, such as committee work in ASCLS and other outreach activities. But at the same time, more than 500 ASCLS leaders served on committees, boards or task forces, as well as in constituent societies.
The pandemic has shined a bright light on our profession, and we have the unique opportunity to capitalize on being in the spotlight by spreading accurate information about testing and sharing how awesome our profession is!
Dynamic Conferences and Educational Offerings
ASCLS found new venues to provide continuing education and networking opportunities to members. We were able to adapt and put together fully virtual and hybrid conferences.
COVID-19’s Impact on Face-to-Face Meetings
The lifting of restrictions around the United States related to COVID-19 affected the way face-to-face meetings were delivered. At our 2022 CLEC, consistent with policy set by the Board of Directors, we required proof of “full vaccination” to CDC guidelines (i.e., two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson). Some of our constituent societies required vaccination to attend their meetings.
Constituent Societies’ Annual Meetings
Most of our constituent societies delivered their annual meetings this year. A critical transition occurred as our constituent societies are again able to meet face-to-face and begin rebuilding the strong interpersonal bonds that are difficult to maintain in virtual environments, but critical to the success of ASCLS.
Our legislative team modified the way we reach out to legislators with a successful and well-organized 2021 Laboratory Legislative Symposium. The symposium, held September 26-27, ended up with 122 registrants, with 46 of those attending virtually. In addition to Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) and White House COVID-19 Supplies Coordinator Tim Manning, attendees heard from senior staff for Congresswoman Diane DeGette and Congressman Larry Bucshon who were leading a bipartisan effort to pass legislation to regulate high-risk laboratory developed tests.
Emerging Laboratory Managers Collaborative Conference (ELMC2)
The second annual Emerging Laboratory Managers Collaborative Conference (ELMC2) was held virtually in the middle of January 2022. There were more than 125 medical laboratory professionals that participated in this conference, up by 30 percent the previous year. The event was specifically designed for laboratory professionals in leadership roles or hoping to transition into management and included 15 sessions on topics such as, succession planning, coaching and providing feedback, recruitment and retention, keeping up with regulations, and more. Attendees also had the chance to network and talk with presenters and other attendees in virtual breakout rooms in between sessions. ELMC2 participants continued to collaborate and learn throughout the year with a mentor program and an online community discussion forum.
I had the opportunity to attend CLEC 2022 in Denver, March 14-16. Registration reached a new record with more than 630 registrants, exceeding previous record attendance in Orlando in 2020. Slightly less than 60 percent of participants attended virtually. Logistics of the hybrid meeting went well, and we continue to build competence around the technology and experiential elements of the meetings. CLEC this year included outstanding peer-to-peer learning opportunities through shared personal experiences, designed to give take-aways that one can bring home and implement in their own educational program. Other topics included new ways to enhance the student learning experience, adapt content for new learning methods and delivery systems, discover innovative teaching techniques, and so much more. Thanks to all our presenters, industry partners, attendees, and volunteers who helped make CLEC 2022 a memorable and educational experience!
Joint Annual Meeting
We were thrilled to hold our second Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) with the Association of Genetic Technologists (AGT) and Society of American Federal Medical Laboratory Scientists (SAFMLS) June 26-30, 2022. JAM is an experience unlike any other meeting of laboratory professionals. It brought together people from all facets of the laboratory—from higher education to the bench, and even the administrative suite. Medical laboratory professionals came together—whether that’s in-person in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or online for the virtual experience—to reconnect with the professional community to celebrate our collective achievements. JAM offered a single, integrated educational program, abstracts and poster presentations, and new ways to connect with industry partners. The combined expertise of the three organizations brought together scientific knowledge and deep expertise in leadership. There is no single professional meeting that offers this unique experience.
Nearly 900 participants, including representatives from over 50 industry partners, attended JAM 2022. This is up from 752 last year and even eclipsed our record 854 in our all virtual 2020 JAM.
A promotion of the Labucate learning management system (LMS) to our email and social media audiences ran over the winter using theme of a “gift” of a $15 coupon, which would allow anyone who used it a free P.A.C.E.®-accredited session. From December 10, 2021, to January 15, 2022, the coupon was used 340 times.
Labucate has hosted more than 5,500 user sessions since last year. The system currently has 193 courses available. Moreover, ASCLS held eight webinars, free to members, for P.A.C.E.® credit with 2,684 registrations.
The mission of ASCLS is to make a positive impact in healthcare through leadership that will assure excellence in the practice of laboratory medicine. To that end, ASCLS promotes the dissemination of research discoveries, best practices in education, and government actions affecting clinical laboratory science professionals and their integration and impact on the healthcare system.
Transition to the new Clinical Laboratory Science Journal Editor-in-Chief Mark Kellogg is complete, and the publishing firm has finished copy editing most of the backlog. Typeset pages are beginning to move to approval before posting to the CLS Journal site as issues. Barring some unforeseen issue, we should have the backlog cleared by this summer.
Body of Knowledge for the Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science
The first edition of the Body of Knowledge (BOK) for the Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science (DCLS) was completed. The document was posted for comments and feedback from educators and the general membership. This document represents years of work by the co-editors and 17 other contributors including practitioners, managers, graduate-level and DCLS educators, DCLS practitioners, and a DCLS student resident. Two pathologists served as consultants.
Currently, there are three DCLS programs in the country (University of Kansas Medical Center, Rutgers University, and University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston) and approximately 40 DCLS graduates in practice.
The Choosing Wisely (CW) Committee provided patients and clinicians with good laboratory practice guidance on a respected international site. The committee taps ASCLS members’ scientific and clinical expertise, exploits the scientific assemblies’ knowledge base, and places ASCLS in a constructive partnership with the ASCP Committee on Science, Technology, and Policy (CSTP), the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation, and the Consumers’ Union.
The CW Committee made the following recommendations that were later approved by ASCLS Board of Directors and ASCP’s CTSP.
- Do not perform influenza testing unless the patient is admitted to the hospital and the results will influence clinical management and medical decision making. (Author: Deborah Josko)
- Do not prescribe immune suppressive agents for suspected autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) without first excluding infections with hepatotropic viruses. Active chronic hepatitis C infection may mimic AIH, both serologically and histologically, features that may resolve with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment. (Author: Muneeza Esani, Heather L. Stevenson)
- Don’t employ a specific direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC) reversal agent without identifying the DOAC and estimating its plasma concentration. (Author: George Fritsma)
CW Committee members discussed development of new recommendations related to COVID-19, Celiac disease, and Von Willebrand disease.
Branding and Marketing
ASCLS is a professional organization that provides advocacy, standards setting, education, and personal and professional development for clinical laboratory science practitioners. Therefore, it is crucial to develop and implement a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy that leverages multiple platforms, including professional networks. The ASCLS brand within the clinical laboratory industry must be recognizable with ways to enhance brand recognition, awareness, and recall.
Constituent Society Branding
To date, we have 21 constituent societies that have taken advantage of the national organization’s offer to provide a visual identity (logo) that is consistent with the national brand. This includes a package of appropriate logo formats.
Higher Logic Microsites for Constituent Societies
We continue to rollout websites for constituent societies. To date, we have 18 constituent societies in the process of creating a new website. Each society is handled as a unique rollout. ASCLS staff works with the constituent society on potentially updating the logo and branding for consistency. A site is built and then the volunteer leaders in the constituent society are trained in its use. Finally, the existing domain is routed to the new site if the constituent society has an existing domain.
Membership Recruitment and Retention
After ending the 2020-21 membership year with a retention rate in excess of 80 percent, the first wave of renewals fell behind the previous year. The self-identified cause often still appears to be “cost.” In mid-October, professional membership renewals stood at 72.5 percent compared to 75.1 percent at the same time last year. Strategies to promote membership and to recruit more members at the Professional level and leveraging opportunities to retain members at the Ascending Professional and Professional levels are highly important to keep ASCLS moving forward. ASCLS continues to initiate recruitment activities each week for those laboratory professionals who have passed the ASCP certifying exam the previous week. A number of other initiatives have been undertaken focusing on graduating Developing Professional members and a reinstatement campaign for lapsed members from previous years.
ASCLS maintained an active representation on the boards of various professional organizations. These include the American Hospital Association, International Federation of Biomedical Laboratory Science (IFBLS), Joint Commission (Professional and Technical Advisory Committee-PTAC), Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI), Coordinating Council for the Clinical Laboratory Workforce (CCCLW), Health Professions Network (HPN), ASCP Board of Certification (BOC), and the National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).
I was honored to be invited to deliver the keynote address at the Inaugural CDC OneLab Summit. The summit connected clinical and public health laboratory professionals in real-time to support a unified response to laboratory education and training needs. The three-day summit was an advanced experience, designed to help attendees “level up” their existing skills via new technology, learning and development (L&D) tools, and approaches. It presented a collaboration opportunity connecting peers in laboratory education and training through an environment to share best practices and lessons learned among those with laboratory education and training responsibilities for clinical, public health, or academic laboratories.
ASCLS continued to focus on finding support for a bill to put federal resources into the training of laboratory professionals. Unfortunately, this has been challenging. Congress is aware of workforce issues throughout healthcare and there are a number of proposed bills that may, to some degree, include laboratory professions within their scope.
ASCLS and the rest of the laboratory community, with strong grassroots support, were able to convince Congress to delay cuts to laboratory fees under PAMA from January 2022 to January 2023.
On Tuesday, June 14, 2022, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on S.4348, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Landmark Advancements (FDASLA) Act and voted to move the bill to the full Senate for its consideration. This bill includes the current version of the Verifying Accurate, Leading-edge IVCT Development (VALID) Act. VALID recognizes the enormous capacity for innovation laboratory professionals are capable of generating with the tools and expertise they have at their disposal and also recognizes the profound impact that those laboratory developed tests have on patients. For more than a decade, ASCLS has advocated for common sense federal regulation of laboratory developed tests.
Governance and Finance
The Constituent Society Steering Committee has spent time looking over the draft ASCLS Constituent Society Key Health Indicators. The measures included performance indicators in areas of finance, leadership, membership, governance, meetings, website, and communication. The committee made recommendations on how societies meet these standards using terminology of “Fully Compliant,” “Partially Compliant,” and “Not Compliant,” or similar language. The committee would still gather the data to help ASCLS measure future endeavors.
Conflict of Interest Policy
The board approved a conflict of interest policy. The purpose of the policy is to protect the interests of ASCLS when it is contemplating entering into a transaction or arrangement that might benefit the private interests of a member of the Board of Directors, committee member, forum officer, or staff member of ASCLS, or might result in a possible excess benefit transaction.
Membership dues is the largest gross revenue generating department in our budget. Declines in membership directly impact our financial health and ability to generate value. We must work at all levels of the organization to use our financial resources to develop programming that builds value and grows membership.
In closing, it has been an honor serving as ASCLS president. I want to commend and thank the entire medical laboratory community who have been working nonstop on the COVID-19 response efforts and who have ensured that we, as a profession, continued to meet our regular essential responsibilities. We take our job seriously, and our focus is always on patient safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us, but it also has afforded us an opportunity to develop smarter responses and to better prepare for the future. While the past two years provided all of us with challenges we had never seen before, we know there will always be new and different obstacles in years ahead. ASCLS is dedicated to our members and our profession and will continue to be flexible, adaptable, and resilient no matter what comes our way!
Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. The board members have been super supportive during my tenure on the board. Jim Flanigan and the ASCLS staff are the superstars behind the scenes. A special thank you to my wife, Joanna, my mother, and other friends and family.
Thank you for your trust, and for the honor and the incredible experience of serving as your president.
Hassan Aziz is Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.