Volume 37 Number 2 | April 2023
Ali Nussbaum, MA, MLS(ASCP)CM
Laboratory: the behind-the-scenes profession that no one has ever heard of … or at least, that is what people in the field say as we try to remain purposely unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the lab a front and center force to demonstrate its critical role in healthcare. Staying visible is now all of our professional responsibility. Visibility means getting uncomfortable for the sake of one’s career. It means advocating, representing, supporting, and being the face of the profession. Regardless of the industry, this is a difficult but vital task.
A goal of mine is to grow my professional visibility both internally and externally to my workplace. There is so much value I can add to discussions, but I need to take risks to achieve it. This has not been easy, nor have I reached the level of visibility that some of my ASCLS colleagues have achieved. My efforts may be small, but they are not insignificant. Ultimately, my hope is to motivate others to promote and increase visibility of laboratory medicine.
Being an engaged individual has led me to join five workplace committees. I’m especially excited about my participation in a committee for employee engagement and a subcommittee for awards and recognition. Laboratory professionals, in general, do not have the best reputation for recognizing the good they do, so representing the laboratory on this committee is a great honor.
The Employee Engagement Committee has provided me an opportunity that is not often experienced by cisgendered, straight, white females—being the minority in the room. This occurrence was not lost on me. I am using the experience to learn how it feels to be in the minority and to be aware of my privilege. My position is to understand better how my BIPOC and LGTBQ+ coworkers would like to see recognition, events, or activities that would be most inclusive.
“Visibility means getting uncomfortable for the sake of one’s career. It means advocating, representing, supporting, and being the face of the profession.”
Gaining other skills, experiences, and professional visibility has always been important to me. I’ve been volunteering with the Special Olympics for 13 years, and for the last seven years I’ve been coaching a St. Paul children’s team. Working with children is a blessing. They are open to new experiences, enjoy playing with each other, and generally have an amazing time in all the sports that we offer. Since I have an ambitious group of young people at my disposal, I often talk about the lab. Most athletes have a lot of appointments, and when I get to educate them about the role the lab plays, it feels impactful.
Another activity that I regularly participate in is my neighborhood’s community council. On the 15-person board, I serve to better the community through engagement by serving on committees for festivals and road construction. It makes for a decisive group that has productive and encouraging meetings. This group was easy to fall in with after I was elected, and I take great pride in working toward benefiting my community through the resources we have to offer. Additionally, I never miss an opportunity to support my workplace and laboratory medicine.
Professional visibility means helping my fellow professionals become better laboratorians. One way that I am accomplishing this is to connect young professionals with free continuing education events by posting them on the ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Facebook Group. Through custom branding, I hope to encourage the viewing of free webinars so that all professionals can get the required hours that they need without having to spend money.
Additionally, I informally mentor peers through resume assistance, career guidance, and offering insight. Although I’ve worked in clinical laboratories throughout my career, I did not begin work as a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) until 2016. My experiences are often able to help others, and I love talking to non-MLS grads about returning to school to obtain another degree.
In November, I represented ASCLS-Wisconsin at a guidance counselors’ conference where we described laboratory medicine, talked about ideal characteristics of potential students, and highlighted the MLT/MLS programs throughout the state. It was not surprising that many counselors had never heard of laboratory medicine, and our group worked diligently over two and a half days to change that.
Having professional visibility induces pride. I love utilizing my position and passion to benefit the laboratory and the scientific community. Slowly I am gaining the confidence to be more public facing and to increase awareness of laboratory medicine. If every laboratory professional takes little actions to improve professional visibility, laboratory medicine will no longer be an unknown career path. It is in all of our best interest to make this happen!
Ali Nussbaum is a lead technologist at NorthPoint Health and Wellness in Minneapolis, Minnesota.