Volume 37 Number 2 | April 2023

Christen Diel, MS, MLS(ASCP), ASCLS Diversity Advocacy Council Counselor-at-Large

Clinical laboratory science is a passion I never knew I had when asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” But it is a career that I could not imagine my life without now.

Medicine has always been fascinating to me from a young age. Instead of watching cartoons, I could be found trying to solve the Mystery Diagnosis or cause of death with Dr. G Medical Examiner. It wasn’t until high school, when I signed up for the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program, that I was introduced to the pathology lab and learned what happens to specimens after they are removed from the human body. In the anatomic pathology lab, I was introduced to amputated limbs, organs, and products of conception, all of which was very exciting and fun to me. I wanted to be part of the team that handled these samples for a living.

While I originally thought being a pathologist’s assistant might be my calling, I quickly learned that dictation and formalin did not suit me after fainting during a job shadowing experience. However, I was fortunate enough to have found the Medical (aka Clinical) Laboratory Science Program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where I found solidarity with my career and support from professors who believed in my professional development and recommended the Doctor of Clinical of Laboratory Science (DCLS) program at Rutgers University. Before I could finish my undergraduate education, I had plans to continue with graduate studies while working on the bench.

“My primary long-term interests include advocating for the profession as a part of the interdisciplinary healthcare team in addition to promotion of effective and efficient utilization of laboratory services.”

In 2016, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science and began working as an evening shift medical technologist. One year later I applied for and was accepted into the MS-CLS program at Rutgers as a steppingstone for the DCLS program. I applied my studies to the bench by making recommendations to update policies and procedures based on current best practices as well as integrating my diagnostic skills to correlate patient results to their clinical presentation. I successfully eliminated antiquated testing algorithms and cardiac panels according to the Choosing Wisely Campaign and introduced the new eGFR 2021 CKD EPI creatinine equation that estimates kidney function without using race. I have now gained nearly seven years of experience as a generalist and almost three years as a department supervisor. During my career, I have held roles as shift charge-technologist, senior technologist, supervisor, and laboratory information system (LIS) “super-user.” As of 2022, I have completed my MS-CLS at Rutgers University and started course work in the DCLS program.

My short-term goals for the DCLS program include expanding my knowledge of disease processes, treatments, and pharmacology to better understand how laboratory results are applied at the bedside and how they might affect care plans or testing beyond the laboratory. I also look forward to the skills that will be gained during residency such as bedside communication and interdisciplinary consultation. My primary long-term interests include advocating for the profession as a part of the interdisciplinary healthcare team in addition to promotion of effective and efficient utilization of laboratory services. Throughout my graduate journey I have been given several opportunities to advocate, volunteer, and share my experience with other laboratory professionals interested in the benefits of graduate level laboratory coursework and the difference it makes in job opportunities and quality healthcare.

I have learned to write grant proposals, conduct research, perform systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and evaluate clinical trials. I have also reviewed and discussed CLIA ‘88 amendments and other laboratory laws and regulations concerning Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After completing my own systematic review and meta-analysis on blood culture rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) and result communication as coursework, I am now working with my professor, Scott Parrot, PhD, to publish this paper to a clinical microbiology journal. I have also been given the opportunity to volunteer with the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) to perform a meta-analysis as a part of their systematic review for blood culture contamination rates that will be published as upcoming clinical practice guidelines.

In my personal life I am immersed in the LGBTQIA+ community and acknowledge that certain subpopulations experience difficulties receiving proper healthcare. My own personal research interests are focused on transgender and non-binary patients, specifically their proper identification, representation, and reference ranges within electronic medical records and laboratory information systems (LISs). Practitioners unfamiliar with full transition history may improperly order or interpret laboratory testing due to a lack of communication regarding the patient’s gender or hormone therapy status. I believe that this is an underserved community that demands accurate recognition to improve the quality and safety of their healthcare.

Since I have started my education and career in laboratory medicine, I have continued to network and build relationships with other healthcare professionals and even some interdisciplinary professionals who share a passion for evidence-based medicine, patient safety, and quality laboratory data. These networks and experiences have helped me gain leverage in roles that deal with data analytics, policy reform, quality improvement, and teaching. I am eager to continue my journey as a DCLS student and soon-to-be doctoral professional in a field that is always evolving and provides so many avenues to make a difference for the patients we serve.

Christen Diel is a Senior Clinical Laboratory Scientist at Augusta University Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.