Volume 35 Number 5 | October 2021

Carol Rentas, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Leadership Development Committee Chair

What is professional growth, especially as it applies to a medical laboratory professional? It begins with the individual professional. Professionalism is a progression, from building a professional identity to participating in meaningful advocacy in the profession, and ultimately leading other professionals in the betterment of that profession. But before we feel comfortable stepping into our professional identity, we must first begin by cultivating our professional demeanor.

Developing a Professional Demeanor

To develop a positive professional demeanor, we must first understand the basic elements of professionalism and be proficient in the essential skill set necessary to succeed as a medical laboratory professional. Professional cultures are designed to ensure that the workplace behaviors of the individual members contribute to the shared mission of that organization. But adopting the appropriate workplace behaviors or habits that align with professional standards may be challenging when first entering the profession. Each professional culture is built on a set of values that define the work ethic of that profession and navigating unfamiliar cultural expectations may require some direction and/or explanation.

Acclimating to the Professional Healthcare Team

As the novice medical laboratory professional becomes more acclimated to the workplace environment and becomes more proficient in their workplace skills, each professional becomes acutely aware that they are members of several healthcare teams. While these collaborative experiences will undoubtedly provide a sense of belonging, the individual professional may be now presented with new and/or unfamiliar challenges that often arise during workplace team interactions.

What skills can be used to navigate the complex relationships that exist within the workplace? More importantly, what tools and exercises can further develop the professional skillset related to team-based interactions and environments? Several techniques can facilitate positive team dynamics and increase collaborative efficiency, such as cultivating cultural competency and conflict management methods to allow team members to understand differences while providing a collective realization of common goals. When we realize our place in relation to other professionals, we begin to form our own professional identity.

Cultivating a Professional Identity

To discuss professional identity, we must first understand the concept of professional consciousness. Professional consciousness can be defined as the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s professional surroundings. In other words, a professional will ask themselves, “How do I fit in?” Tan (2017) describes professional identity as “the self that has been developed with the commitment to perform competently and legitimately in the context of the profession, and its development can continue over the course of the individuals’ careers.” This part of our professional development and self-realization is the framework that allows us to give back to our profession. As we see ourselves as part of the larger professional community, we begin to see where we can best serve.

Advocating and Leading the Future of the Healthcare Professions

To ultimately accomplish the mission and goals of the profession, success often requires that individual professionals step up into leadership roles or positions. All professionals can serve in leadership roles by advancing the profession or its mission in direct and indirect ways. Professional advocacy is action to promote the profession by bolstering pride in the profession and giving back by training others to understand and value the contributions of our profession. But many professionals are unsure how to advocate for the profession or lack understanding of how advocacy for our profession contributes to the larger mission of patient care. In addition, many of us don’t know how to get started participating in professional advocacy and/or leading others in the betterment of the profession.

These are important questions and areas that cannot be addressed here. To facilitate this process of professional growth and development, the ASCLS Leadership Development Committee (LDC) will soon release several online continuing education modules on labucate.org that outline this process.

  • Professionalism I: Becoming a Professional [Carol Rentas]
  • Professionalism II: Forming a Professional Identity [Michelle Butina]
  • Professionalism III: Cultivating Advocacy and Leadership Potential [Cathy Otto]

LDC Chair 2020/2021 / Modules Facilitator [Kathy Doig]

These modules equip the medical laboratory professional with the roadmap to developing a positive professional presence, forming a professional identity, and cultivating advocacy and leadership potential, which is critical to ensure our medical laboratory profession operates at a level that provides optimal patient care. The LDC hopes these modules will be helpful for members and inspire ever-increasing advocacy and participation in professional leadership roles. Please look for these modules this coming fall and let us know if you have other ideas/areas that may contribute to the leadership formation of our members.

Professional Development

Tan, C., Van der Molen, H., & Schmidt, H. (2017) A measure of professional identity development for professional education, Studies in Higher Education, 42:8, 15041519, DOI:10.1080/03075079.2015.1111322

Carol Rentas is Director, Biomedical Laboratory Sciences Educational Technology, at George Washington University.