Brooke Solberg, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS-North Dakota President and Region V Membership Committee Representative
Shannon Jongeward, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS-North Dakota Bylaws Chair

Those of us that are active participants in ASCLS recognize its critical role in fostering the laboratory profession. Unfortunately, many laboratory professionals are choosing not to be part of the organization. If ASCLS is to be able to continue serving our profession in a meaningful way, we must recruit and grow the membership.

One of the first steps in addressing this type of issue is to get feedback from potential members. As part of the University of North Dakota’s (UND) Master of Science (MS) in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) degree program, students are required to take a course titled Current Trends and Issues for the Laboratory Professional (note: pre-requisites for the MS in MLS program include MLS certification, a Bachelor’s Degree, and a recommended >3 years of clinical experience). During this class, students have the opportunity to discuss and debate topics with significant ramifications for the field. As such, this course seemed a natural place to begin a conversation about professional societies with individuals that have an obvious interest in the profession. 

Sixteen MS in MLS students from all over the US recently took part in this course. As part of the course unit on professional society membership, students were presented with the following open-ended questions:

  1. Are you currently a member of a professional society? If so, which one(s)?
  2. If you are currently a member, why did you join?
  3. If you are not currently a member, what holds you back from joining?
  4. What do you see as the advantages of being part of a professional society?
  5. What do you see as the disadvantages of being part of a professional society?
  6. What could professional organizations do to entice you to become a member?
  7. In your opinion, what is the role of a professional organization?

After a few minutes to consider these questions, an in-class discussion ensued that was facilitated by the course instructor. 

Responses indicated that half of the students were members of at least one professional society. All eight of these respondents indicated they were members of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), with two of the eight also being members of ASCLS. In order of frequency, students cited the following as reasons for joining these societies: to have access to continuing education (CE) sources, to enhance their resumes, for reduced conference fees, and for CE documentation/tracking services. Of note, one student stated that he joined ASCP to “maintain certification,” even though ASCP certification can be maintained without societal membership. This highlights a common misconception among new professionals, and one that could potentially harm ASCLS membership rates for those individuals only able to participate in one professional organization due to cost.

Individuals not currently enrolled in a professional society unanimously reported that the cost of membership was the main factor holding them back from participation. A few also mentioned that they did not see the benefit in joining. These responses mirrored those cited as being disadvantages of being part of a professional society, with cost again topping that list.

Conversely, students felt that opportunities for CE credits and an ability to stay abreast of current professional issues were the main advantages of societal membership. Another frequently mentioned benefit was the ability to network with other professionals. Also making the list of advantages was: being able to bring awareness to the workplace, having an organizational voice, lobbying or political involvement, and easy documentation/reporting of CE credits.

When asked what professional organizations such as ASCLS could do to entice new members, students decisively agreed that drastically lowering the cost of membership would likely be the biggest incentive. While ideal, students recognized that significantly lowering fees might not be feasible from an organizational standpoint. As such, they felt that offering a considerable amount of free CE credits as part of membership would be the next best alternative. One student proposed the inclusion of one free conference or meeting registration per year as a perk of membership. Others felt that organizations in general needed to do a better job of demonstrating the benefits of membership, reaching out to new graduates, and showing people how to get involved. It was also recognized that organizations, and particularly ASCLS, were missing the mark on self-promotion. For example, almost all of the students were aware of the availability of discounted CE credits through ASCP membership, but only one knew of similar offers from ASCLS.

Finally, students were asked to describe what they felt the role of a professional organization should be. Over half of the responses indicated that laboratory-related professional societies need to help promote recognition of the profession throughout healthcare. Students also felt that professional organizations should play an integral role in providing a ‘network of support’ for its members.
Although these comments come from a very small number of laboratory professionals, there are common themes that seem likely to be echoed throughout the field. Assuming these views hold true for a majority of laboratorians, the news is not all bad for ASCLS in that these requests are not unreasonable. If what laboratory professionals want is a society that will promote themselves and the profession, increase recognition of the field throughout healthcare, and offer opportunities for continued learning at a reasonable price, ASCLS has the power to be that source.