Volume 35 Number 6 | December 2021

Cindy Johnson MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Past President

Cindy JohnsonDuring my ASCLS presidential term (2019-20), I stressed the importance of advocating for the laboratory profession as well as the professional. I challenged you to find your “why”—your purpose, the reason you chose the laboratory profession. Then I encouraged you to share the important work you do and how you impact the lives of others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique opportunity for the laboratory professional to highlight the essential role we play on the healthcare team, since laboratory testing has been central to understanding this virus. Many of you used social media and various other platforms to educate our governmental officials, healthcare providers, and the public about the differences between a COVID collection site and performing a COVID test.

During the past 20+ months of the pandemic, it has been important in my role as senior laboratory director to advocate for the laboratory team through various outlets. As we all struggled with obtaining reagents and pipettes for COVID testing, due to the supply chain issues, it was critical for members of our Incident Command and senior executive leaders to understand the strain that this pandemic was placing on the laboratory team. As various leaders came to the laboratory to round with the team, it provided a forum for the laboratory staff to educate them on all aspects of laboratory services, from specimen collections, processing of specimens, and testing. Our laboratory team members reiterated the message that even though they were working short staffed, they remained focused on providing the best laboratory services possible.

The message from our laboratory advocates resonated with our leaders, so it was time for the team to “break out of the basement,” celebrate our contribution to patient care, and share our stories. Our executive leaders encouraged us to work with our communications department to get our story out to both our internal healthcare colleagues and through our local newspaper to our local communities in Central Minnesota.

The first article, “COVID-19 highlights behind-the-scenes work of critical laboratory staff in St. Cloud, beyond,” was published in our local paper, St. Cloud Times, on January 19, 2021. This article was a collaboration between several of our medical laboratory educational leaders and our hospital laboratory leaders to highlight the important work laboratory professionals do, often behind the scenes. This article also stressed the workforce shortage and the need to recruit into our educational programs so that we have laboratory professionals available to replace our aging workforce.

The St. Cloud Times healthcare reporter again reached out through our communications department and wanted to write another article about the laboratory but this time with a focus on our younger professionals. On April 16, to coincide with Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, the article, “Young scientists embrace complexity in St. Cloud lab,” was published. The reporter met with CentraCare Laboratory Services medical laboratory scientists, Logan McLaird and Christopher Rochon, who were able to highlight the work they do on a daily basis that included more than just COVID testing.

Laboratory advocacy continued into the spring when our health system was designing a new online publication and leaders were asked about providing content for the new site. Our vice president immediately recommended that the laboratory team(s) be highlighted for our role in the pandemic. I was contacted by our contractor who was part of the online publication development, and two interviews were completed. The outcome of these interviews resulted in the story, “Laboratory Services: No Longer Backstage.”

In the comment section following this story, Tami Stanger, who has served in the role of laboratory manager for one of our rural sites, summed up the essence of the article: “Sometimes it is the unforeseen challenges in life that force us into greatness! The pandemic was this catalyst for the laboratory staff. The increased workload was faced with resiliency and a determination to accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished with focus and determination. We all felt the pressure but also the importance the lab brought to the fight against COVID. Hopefully we can all take a moment to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments gained!”

Read the full story.

My challenge to you all is to find creative ways to be a laboratory advocate (aka labvocate), because what you do DOES matter! Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made through this pandemic.You truly are the Heroes in Lab Coats!

Cindy Johnson is Senior Director of Laboratory Services at CentraCare in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Article about laboratoy staff in St. Cloud Times

Article about young laboratory scientists in St. Cloud Times

CentraCare executive leaders encouraged the medical laboratory to work with its communications department to get their story out to both internal healthcare colleagues and to local communities in Central Minnesota through the local newspaper.