Volume 37 Number 3 | June 2023


Brett RiceAt the bench, our profession boils down to our ability to communicate and our ability to perform procedures. Professional communication is demonstrated by our ability to communicate thoughtfully, effectively, and constructively. Professionalism in performing procedures is demonstrated by our proficiency and our willingness to perform higher level tasks beyond our baseline. One way to increase our value as medical laboratory professionals is to prove we can professionally grow in these two areas.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you are not struggling, then you are not learning?” Every professional struggle should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow. Do you remember progressing through your training to become a laboratory professional, starting your first job at the bench, transitioning to a new bench in a new laboratory, or adapting to a new laboratory role? I remember these times, and I remember being exposed to so much new information that it was at times overwhelming and difficult to keep up. But we persevered, learned, and grew past the struggle, becoming the laboratory professionals we are today. We need to continue these efforts throughout our careers.

“Pursuing any professional growth beyond the minimum required activities is necessary to increase our value, our laboratory’s value, the profession’s value, and our patients’ quality of healthcare.”

Every day we practice as a laboratory professional we are engaging in professional growth by staying current with our laboratory skills, performing activities such as analyzing the validity of results, participating in proficiency and competency surveys, analyzing quality control, and communicating with colleagues and other healthcare team members. These are excellent activities, especially for new laboratory professionals, as they provide moments of challenge and opportunities for growth.

Over time though, and through repeated exposures, our responses to familiar situations can become rigid due to the common patterns that emerge from these experiences. Anytime we are practicing as a laboratory professional, we need to consciously focus on staying flexible and adaptable. Although noticing patterns is an excellent quality, we need to remember there is that 5 percent chance a common pattern response may not apply to the situation. These are the times when staying active and engaged in our environment will ensure an agile response.

Our practice of medical laboratory science dictates the quality of our work, satisfaction of our work, and fulfillment with the profession. If we are only practicing what is necessary, then our enjoyment in the profession may begin to wane over time as the tasks we perform become familiar, safe, routine, comfortable, and/or monotonous. So, what do we do?

Some of us settle into a routine, and some of us look for more responsibilities or something new altogether. A benefit of a routine is that one becomes better at a task and more efficient. A drawback is the overconfidence that tags along. With experience and without constant challenges, we can become prone to making and not recognizing mistakes in practice. Proficiency and competency surveys are meant to keep this behavior in check and keep us on our toes, but I believe each of us should be doing more. We should engage in activities that provide challenges we are not comfortable approaching.

One idea to keep us challenged is to participate in continuing education monthly, instead of one month every three years. Another challenge is to demonstrate a deep understanding of the common reagents consumed in the laboratory areas we actively practice. Do you know the reagents’ package insert by heart, or at least the principles and limitations? If you do, then you are likely the one colleagues approach when troubleshooting erroneous testing results. Another wealth of information is your instruments’ instructions for use (IFU). Reading package inserts and IFUs to gain knowledge and a better understanding of operation is a quick way to engage with our laboratory environment and strengthen our roles as laboratory professionals.

If you have been in a specific area of the laboratory for more than three years, then challenge yourself by attempting a specialist certification. Obtaining a specialist certification has the added benefit of elevating your laboratory by being an example and inspiring others to accomplish the same. Do not forget to review your institution’s tuition assistance program. It may reimburse you for the cost of passing the certification. While you are at it, consider using tuition assistance to pursue a higher level of education or other certificate program through our professional organizations.

Demonstration of any professional growth comes from our ability to communicate what we have learned. Demonstrate an understanding of reagents and instruments by teaching what you have learned to someone who is not familiar with the content. Demonstrate your knowledge from advanced education by presenting workflow ideas to your colleagues that will increase your laboratory’s efficiency and effectiveness. And during all communication, demonstrate your awareness that two or more minds are present by patiently, actively, and constructively listening to your colleagues.

Think about where you are in your career now compared to one, three, five, 10, or more years ago. Would you say that you have professionally grown? How would you describe your professional growth? I believe professional growth is absolutely necessary to become a better laboratory professional. Pursuing any professional growth beyond the minimum required activities is necessary to increase our value, our laboratory’s value, the profession’s value, and our patients’ quality of healthcare.

Brett M. Rice is Assistant Professor, Medical Laboratory Scientist at Augusta University, Augusta University Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.