Volume 37 Number 4 | August 2023

Kim Von Ahsen, MHA, MLS(ASCP)CMSLSCM, ASCLS President, 2022-23

Kim Von AhsenWhen I reflect on my presidency, I think about this quote from Peter Drucker: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” To put it into another context, I prefer to paraphrase using the word change—the greatest danger in times of change is not the change; it is the fear of change.

Seven years ago, the Board of Directors encountered our own moment of turbulence when our newly hired Executive Vice President Jim Flanigan explained the life cycle of an organization. Organizations, like any other living thing, have a cycle. The life cycle of an organization is not measured in its longevity, nor does its age match its stage in the cycle. Stages are benchmarks in the life of the organization. They are not necessarily linear, nor do they always evolve to the next stage, but they are predictable. When an organization understands its stage in the life cycle, it is more effective and better equipped to face challenges, encourage innovation, and recruit the leader talent needed to match the mission and goals of the organization at that stage.

The Board was asked to consider where ASCLS was on the life cycle—were we growing, had we matured, were we declining, or had ASCLS become irrelevant? Change, like turbulence, can be minimal but it can also be significant. For the Board, the honest answer to the question was that ASCLS had lost some of its relevance, we were declining more than we were growing, and if we continued to use yesterday’s logic to drive direction and strategy, we could miss the opportunity to meet the modern needs of our members and community. One could predict that without a commitment to renewal, an important voice for the profession would be lost.

With newfound understanding of the stages and our place on the cycle, it was clear that yesterday’s logic wasn’t producing the desired outcomes of a robust, diverse, and engaged volunteer talent pool that could accomplish the work of the Society. The Board chose courage, they chose change, they chose daring leadership to envision a future ASCLS. As a result, the ASCLS of today feels energized and renewed, and our members speak of feeling empowered and that they are heard.

The Society year began with tremendous support by our House of Delegates to adopt changes to our bylaws that recruits talent for the Board of Directors based upon effective and proven attributes and skills over geography. In support of the effort to create a more inclusive and representative Board of Directors, the Nominations Committee presented a slate of candidates under this new model that is diverse in its experience, expertise, and ability to influence the Society’s goals and mission.

With an understanding of the vision and support of the changes by the House of Delegates, strategic actions taken by ASCLS over the past year have focused on:

  • Purpose Driven Structures
  • Affirming our Unique Value
  • Designing the Future
Purpose Driven Structures

At the Society Update last year, I spoke about the design term, form follows function. When constructing a building, the purpose of a building should be the starting point for its design. Over this year, ASCLS has evaluated the purpose of our structures. Where form has not followed function, changes have been implemented to align form, so the work is meaningful and mutually beneficial to both our volunteers and the Society.

Simplification and Standardization of Committees: At the Interim Board meeting, the board approved a policy that  removes complexity and variability, enabling our committees to be flexible in response to changing volunteer resources, emphasizes a better balance of personal life and volunteer life, and establishes a clear leadership succession that encourages support and mentoring.

Empowered Forums: Forums adopted governing documents that have provided clarity in their guidance and have inspired creativity and unique member engagements.

  • Our Diversity Advocacy Council continued to engage in conversations that, while may be uncomfortable, are important to ensure we create a sense of belonging and safety. As a direct result of DAC’s efforts to provide a space for us to learn and grow, the Board of Directors engaged in open, transparent discussions around DEI concerns from members and continue to work to create policies to ensure member physical and mental safety.
  • Our Ascending Professionals Forum, in collaboration with the Developing Professionals Forum, coordinated and hosted their Ask Me Anything events, which provide an important avenue to uplift new voices and topics that our members find engaging and meaningful.
  • Our Developing Professionals Forum hosted a national trivia competition for students called Race to JAM. This inaugural event consisted of preliminary rounds conducted over Zoom in April and the top two teams—Rush University and Houston Methodist Hospital MLS Program—went head-to-head in the finals in-person at this year’s Joint Annual Meeting.
  • And we welcomed our newest forum, the Clinical Laboratory Educators Forum (CLEF), this year, formerly the Education Scientific Assembly (ESA). We look forward to inspired and pioneering work under this new model next year for CLEF.

Contemporary Scientific Assemblies: The scientific assemblies have faced challenges over the last few years to find sustained engagement in their current formation. To facilitate the Society’s efforts to integrate scientific expertise across all disciplines and make it clinically relevant, the scientific assemblies are being re-designed to meet the contemporary needs our members. They will be designed with a function that elevates knowledge and participation in the science by our members while having a process for that participation to be simple and dynamic. Members can move in and out of the different scientific assemblies as their interest and knowledge needs shift throughout their professional career. 

Affirming our Unique Value

Over the course of the last two years, you have heard me note that what uniquely differentiates ASCLS from other laboratory groups is having a strong network of constituent societies. A network that delivers support and value to laboratory professionals where they work and live. Our value is the diverse professionals within our constituent societies and how they strengthen ASCLS.

Supporting our Constituent Societies: Numerous strategic decisions made by the Board have converged together this year to provide sustaining and targeted support to our constituent societies. Using the benchmark data from our first Key Health Indicator Survey, the Constituent Society Steering Committee (CSSC) has begun to develop a series of training modules and best practices from the needs identified along with concerns shared by our constituent society leaders. Building on the work of the CSSC and reaffirming the Board’s commitment to our unique value, Jen Mehltretter joined the ASCLS staff in May as director of membership and constituent services. Jen’s role will be to oversee all Society membership programs and serve as resource for our constituent societies.

Amplifying our Constituent Societies: The voice of our constituent societies has been transformed this year with the direct submission of opportunities and threats to the Board of Directors that are both specific to the constituent society or have broader impact on ASCLS and the profession. Using this new path of communication for our grassroots has informed the strategic discussions by the Board and enabled our leaders to feel heard and valued.

Designing the Future

ASCLS continues to fiercely support, protect, and advance our practice.

Vital Role of the Professional: Advancement of our practice was most evident when ASCLS, in a letter sent to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), voiced both strong and public support for CMS to include the Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science (DCLS) doctorate degree as a qualifying degree to serve as a laboratory director. We passionately believe that the DCLS practitioners’ leadership will re-center the clinical laboratories work on the patient. By integrating the DCLS within the broader healthcare team, the work of clinical laboratories will have an immediate and profound impact on health inequities and the negative effects of social determinants of health.

Action Based Alliances: ASCLS for decades has banged the drum LOUDLY about the challenges facing our workforce through advocacy and coalition building, such as in the Coordinating Council on the Clinical Laboratory Workforce (CCCLW). As CCCLW has sunset the organization, a new alliance has formed, the Medical and Public Health Laboratory Workforce Coalition. ASCLS and 22 other major national laboratory, pathology, and healthcare organizations have joined forces to address the critical personnel shortages affecting the workforce. Coalition members, which represent a broad cross section of clinical laboratories, laboratory and pathology associations, public health laboratories, and laboratory regulatory bodies, gathered on May 2 for the first Workforce Alliance Summit organized by COLA, Inc. The goal of the summit was to identify ways to expand the number of skilled medical laboratory professionals through collaboration of efforts. Efforts that move away from using yesterday’s logic and solutions—which have not managed to solve a multiple decade issue—to solutions based on a better understanding of the environmental factors at work through comprehensive data collection and innovative partnerships.

Ready the Workforce: ASCLS was awarded a three-year cooperative agreement from the CDC to support CDC’s OneLab Initiative, in large part due to the tremendous work of our ASCLS staff. OneLab’s goal is to “bridge, train, and sustain a capacity-building community among public health and clinical laboratory professionals to support rapid, large-scale responses to public health emergencies.” ASCLS, with our extensive network of P.A.C.E.® providers and database of educational material, will assist these strategies by identifying the gaps in preparedness and competencies while providing a foundation for areas of future development.

This is only a small snapshot of the accomplishments this year which all share one commonality—you. ASCLS is only ASCLS because of each one of you. With the greatest sincerity, I thank you.

As my time as president ends, I can’t help but think upon the words of Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, upon her retirement of her leadership role in the organization she founded. She said, “It was important to me to step back so that others can step forward. I’ve always said this is a marathon, not a sprint. But the reality is, it’s also a relay race. And the time has come for me to pass the baton to other leaders in our organization.” The legacy and impact I hope my time on the Board of Directors has on ASCLS is a belief and a culture that leadership and care of this organization is meant to be passed. By stepping back, we do not lose our impact, but we provide space for others to step forward, to lead us through the turbulence with foresight and the mission at every step. Thank you for entrusting me with the care of ASCLS; it has been my greatest honor.

Kim Von Ahsen is the Laboratory Quality and Safety Specialist at UnityPoint – Health Des Moines, Iowa Methodist Medical Center, in Des Moines, Iowa.