Volume 37 Number 3 | June 2023

Kassi Erickson, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMPBT, ASCLS Region V Leadership Academy Committee

Kassi EricksonNever stop learning, never stop growing—this is my personal motto, but it hasn’t always been. I accepted my first MLS position perfectly content with working on the bench for the rest of my career. This contentment didn’t last long, as I soon became tired of working nights, weekends, and holidays in the lab. I knew if I wanted to change my future, I would need to grow.

At the time, I thought the only path to growth was to advance my education. While completing my MS degree, I asked my former program director for advice on securing a job in higher education. She recommended reaching out to area programs to see if they needed help. I followed this advice and landed an adjunct teaching position for a local MLT program. Soon after, a full-time instructor position opened, and I was their top pick. Would I have been a shoo-in had I not been brave enough to send that initial email? Maybe, but I definitely had an advantage thanks to that bravery.

My second opportunity in higher education presented itself at my alma mater. I joined the team with a tiny bit of experience under my belt, but honestly, I knew next to nothing about being a teacher and recognized that I needed help. I sought out every professional development opportunity in teaching and learning that was offered on campus. I also sought a mentor through the ASCLS Mentorship Program and had a brief but rewarding connection with a seasoned MLS educator. Even after all that, I still had the desire to learn more. I turned to social media to investigate what other medical laboratory science professionals had done to facilitate their professional growth in higher education. A doctorate in education was recommended to further my education and leadership development. I took on this recommendation and am proud to be only months away from obtaining my EdD.

Unintended Benefit of Professional Growth

Thanks to my instructor role, I have been given the opportunity to serve on several ASCLS committees at the local, state, regional, and national levels. I have met countless professionals through these committees and at ASCLS meetings. I was even asked to help facilitate the Region V Leadership Academy—a professional development opportunity I was considering applying for myself.

When did I transition from being a student to being perceived as an expert? I believe the transition from student to expert is a lifelong journey, and I know I will be a lifelong learner.

Your Journey Toward Professional Growth

Everyone’s journey is different. Wherever you start, whatever your end goal, these are my recommendations:

  1. Break out of your comfort zone and try something you otherwise wouldn’t do. For some, professional growth falls into their lap, but for most, it must be sought after. Keep your goals realistic and do not give up.
  2. Do not underestimate connections. The lab community is small; someone will always know someone who is connected to something somewhere. Networking though colleagues, at professional meetings, or even through informal exchanges can lead to new opportunities for professional growth.
  3. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Seek a mentor. Seek more than one mentor! I have official and unofficial mentors inside and outside of my organization. I have learned that turning connections into mentorships is invaluable to my professional growth and appreciate having support when needed.
  4. Never underestimate yourself. When I thought I should be applying to the leadership academy, I was asked to help lead it. And my transition from a bench tech to an educator was almost overnight. That transition was not easy, but I have countless people to thank—all connections I made by being brave, reaching out, and striving for improvement.
  5. Keep learning. Whether that’s formally through higher education, on the job training opportunities, taking on new responsibilities, or through continuing education credits. Complete a phlebotomy, MLT, or MLS training program. Earn a specialist certification, MBA, MHA, MS, EdD, PhD, or DCLS. Watch the free webinars on the latest in medical laboratory science that are frequently offered by ASCLS, the CDC, Sysmex, ARUP, and others. Join state, regional, or national ASCLS committees and attend meetings.
  6. Be flexible. Growth takes time and commitment. Life happens in the meantime and your growth might have to take the backseat temporarily. Be patient and move with the challenges life throws at you.
  7. Proceed with caution. Big goals are great but remember to stay realistic. Success is about balance, and if you are sacrificing one part of your life for professional growth, you need to determine what matters most to you. Do not sacrifice the things or people you love most for professional growth. Volunteer to help, just be sure not to sign up for everything. Over-commitment leads to doing everything but excelling at nothing.

Whatever your goals are, I hope you strive to achieve them. Remember that professional growth does not always require formal education. Take advantage of your ASCLS membership and utilize the numerous resources that come with it. No matter your goals, someone is willing to help you achieve them.

Kassi Erickson is an Instructor at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.