Volume 35 Number 6 | December 2021

Angela Tomei Robinson, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM

Angela Tomei RobinsonLaboratory professionals are the medical laboratory scientists, laboratory technologists, and technicians who perform and manage the complex laboratory methodology techniques and sophisticated state of the art instrumentation with automation and computer interfacing to aid in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Clinical laboratory science education is a rigorous academic medical curriculum with an extensive clinical internship component. There are universities and colleges with standards of excellence, such as National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accreditation for education. Then there are dedicated national professional certifications such as ASCP Board of Certification (BOC) for recognition of standards met permitting the recipient to use a designated title after their name (i.e., MLS (ASCP)CM). And finally, there are states with government licensure which may establish entry level standards, determine body of knowledge/skills, set scope of practice, and enforce disciplinary standards to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the general public and the required Right to Practice (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services HRSA).

However, while laboratory medicine may have always been considered a profession by laboratory professionals, it wasn’t until April 28, 1995, that a landmark decision made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officially legitimized the position that laboratorians are professionals. In order to be considered “professional,” the employees must be engaged in work that is:

  1. predominantly intellectual and varied in character
  2. involve consistent exercise of discretion and judgement in its performance
  3. is such that the outcome or result of the work cannot be standardized in relation to a given period of time, and
  4. requires a specific, advanced body of knowledge to perform the work.

The NLRB concluded “that the preponderant nature of medical technologists’ duties is intellectual and that it requires the consistent exercise of independent judgment and discretion.”

So, with all the science behind laboratory medicine as an established profession, is laboratory medicine also an art? Gandhi described the art of professionalism: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” Professionalism goes beyond the skill set and competence required to perform quality standards in the workplace. So as much as professionalism is a science, professionalism is also an art—how we think, how we act, how we are perceived. While professionalism involves one’s appearance (dress and attire), in a world of advancing acceptance of diversity this becomes relative on many different levels for different individuals. Therefore, in today’s very diversified workplace, professionalism transcends age and sex and ethnic/religious backgrounds. It is not just one trait to exhibit. Professionalism gains more credibility based on perception, impression, and reputation, including mannerism and conduct or how one speaks, how one listens, and how one reacts.

Professionalism transcends beyond the walls of the workplace into society. The art of professionalism includes effectively and appropriately communicating; incorporates problem solving skills to find solutions to be productive; requires being responsible, respectful, ethical, proactive, and engaging in interpersonal teamwork; and having a positive attitude, displaying integrity, and maintaining an energetic focus on purpose, pride, and passion for the profession.

A definition of professional is: “one that engages in a pursuit or activity professionally.” Professionalism is also defined as “going beyond what an ordinary person would.” In other words, the art of professionalism is not just the work you do, but it is how you do the work you do.

But as a professional practicing your medical scope of practice, what can you do beyond the science? How can you provide the art of professionalism?

Laboratory advocacy—support your profession. Your part in professionalism is what you make of it. You are afforded flexibility and options. You can go to work and be the best you can be, or you can decide to continue to contribute outside of work.

Be a Laboratory Advocate for Your Profession

Perform exceptionally well while at the workplace and beyond those walls. Interact successfully with interpersonal relationships among co-workers and colleagues and other medical professionals and even other ancillary departments. Professionals navigate to collaborate with other colleagues forming a network of influence. Professionals display the knowledge and skill set and extensive medical foundation and background, but they also display the right attitude.

Charles Swindoll has been quoted, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life—more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think say or do. Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”

While venting is good to release the frustrations we face as laboratory professionals being underappreciated, underrecognized, undercompensated, etc., negativity is a cancer which spreads with no cure. So be part of the solution, not part of the problem!

Many laboratory professionals extend well beyond the workplace. Many also mentor as adjunct professors or clinical advisors at local colleges. Others participate in the public, whether it is at high school or college health fairs or town hall meetings. Some author journals and articles or speak at conventions. Maybe your choice is to comment on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, or to text or send emails to your local paper or television show regarding misrepresentation or lack of representation of the laboratory. Beyond the hospital or reference laboratory or POL be visible and be heard in social media platforms, newspaper articles and letters to editor, to television shows, and to legislators. Be that liaison, that voice of reason, informative and industrious.

Join a Professional Society that Advocates for You as a Professional and Your Profession

Professional societies (ASCLS, ASCP, AMT, CLMA, AACC, etc.) advocate for the laboratory with media attention, public awareness, industry and vendor support, and state and federal government lobbying. Individually and in collaboration, these societies work to elevate the appreciation and recognition of this medical profession to attract, recruit, and retain qualified laboratory professionals

For example, through advocacy, ASCLS is involved in key areas, such as setting standards, professional development, position papers, education, scientific sessions, poster abstracts, conferences, meetings, townhalls, billing, reimbursement, legislative symposiums, and so much more. The ASCLS Pledge to the Profession includes: “Maintain and promote standards in performing and advancing the art and science of my profession.”

Yet, while frontline nurses can boast of over 90 percent membership strong, laboratory professional societies struggle with only approximately 50 percent of the potential members. Join the one that advocates for your concerns and needs.

On a recent ASCLS Off the Bench podcast episode, Elissa Passiment, EdM, MT(ASCP), ASCLS emeritus executive vice president, offered issues cannot be resolved if “not speaking with one voice; belong to the group doing the speaking.”

One person can make a difference! Did you know it was one laboratory technologist who raised a dispute at his facility in order to be recognized as part of the professional sector of a union, which paved the road to that historic NRLB decision!

A group of individuals together can make all the difference in the world! Did you know that a coalition, Professional Standards Coalition of Clinical Laboratory Professionals (PSCCLP), was the resourceful laboratory advocacy of over 23 professional societies and unions and industry collaborating, which advanced the right to practice in New York State!

For over 10 years, these professionals from various different laboratory practices, including general laboratory hematology, chemistry, serology, microbiology, immunohematology, cytology, and histology, worked at various upstate and downstate hospitals and reference laboratories and were bench techs and supervisors and managers and administrators and educators and students and union reps. These professional individuals came together as a professional team for the one common goal: the Right to Practice similarly to all other medical professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, PAs). Using bumper stickers and buttons and rationale papers and documents and videos and presentations and acquiring media attention in newspapers and television, as well as letters to legislators and in-person lobbying and testimonies to legislators, the united goal became a reality. The bill was signed by the New York State governor in January 2005.

You already contribute as a professional in the science of laboratory medicine. Behind the scenes you save lives through your commitment, dedication, time, and effort at the workplace, and with quality controls and quality assurance. You deal with severe supply and staffing shortages and face challenges to be recognized and appreciated and compensated for your education and experience and contributions to healthcare.

But laboratory medicine needs you to contribute also as a professional in the art of laboratory medicine. Your actions and words, how you communicate, what you bring to the table can achieve and maintain a place at the table for the laboratory professional.

You are the scientist who performs and manages the highly regulated quality standards of accuracy and precision of laboratory testing for patient care. You are also the artist, not just for you as a professional, but for your professional colleagues and ultimately for quality and safety of the patients we serve.

Be a laboratory advocate! The future depends on what you do today.

  • ASCLS Code of Ethics
  • ASCLS History
  • ASCLS Off the Bench Podcast – History of the Medical Laboratory Science Profession with Elissa Passiment. Aug 27, 2021
  • ASCLS Today: Each of Us Must Be an Advocate – Stephanie Mihane, MLS(ASCP)CM
  • ASCLS Today: ASCLS: What it Does and Why be a Member? – Pat Tille, PhD, MT(ASCP), FACSc
  • ASCLS Today: Rethinking Visibility: Social Media to Promote the Profession – Tera L. Webb, MLS(ASCP)CM, Vol 35 No. 2 April 2021
  • ASCLS Today: Advocacy in Times of Change – Letycia Nunez-Argote, MPH, MLS(ASCP)CM, Vol 35 No 5. Oct 2021
  • ASCLS Today: Professional Growth – Hassan Aziz, PhD, FACSs, MLS(ASCP)CM, Vol 35 No. 5 Oct 2021
  • ASCLS Today: The Gift of Lab Gab – Joanna R. Ellis, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, CHWI, Vol 35 No 5 Oct 2021
  • Bannister, Steve The Art of Professionalism: Learning the Right Way to Get Ahead. Feb 28, 2007
  • Be a Labvocate
  • JumpWire: 8 Awesome Mahatma Gandhi quotes for Professionals. Oct 2, 2017
  • Lippe Giuseppe, Plebani Mario. A modern and pragmatic definition of Laboratory Medicine. Clin Chem Med Lab. 58(8) 2020
  • Mindtools: Professionalism – Meeting the Standards that Matter.
  • National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
  • Swindoll, Charles. Attitude
  • University of Massachusetts: Professionalism in the Workplace: A guide for effective etiquette. Aug 20, 2020
  • U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services HRSA
  • U.S. Dept of Labor: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success

Angela Tomei Robinson is Associate Administrator of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine/Educ Coord (retired) and serves as a Consultant, Clinical Advisor, Adjunct Professor, and Laboratory Advocate.