Volume 37 Number 4 | August 2023
Katelyn Farrar, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Developing Professionals Forum Chair, ASCLS-Michigan Developing Professional Director
What a great resume builder, a professional society membership. At least that used to be my first thought as a naive pre-med student looking for ways to stand out in an application pool. After numerous college major changes, five leadership roles, and one national certification, I knew where I belonged. According to the Oxford dictionary, “Community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
The start of my involvement in ASCLS began with a simple thought—I was looking into ways to make my resume unique, something that many students who hope to go into the medical field look to do. So, I did what any undergraduate student would do, and I reached out to my professor for help.
My professor, Stephanie Mabry, who was heavily involved in the Society, guided me through the benefits of ASCLS. She gave many sessions about the importance of ASCLS and professional societies to our student organization. Outlined before me were leadership opportunities, mentorship programs, networking, educational webinars, national conferences, and more. This was much more than I could have ever expected. She encouraged me to take on a leadership role with our state board as the Developing Professional director.
My First Leadership Role
As most students do, when considering something new, I hesitated. I knew my fear of public speaking was holding me back, but I ultimately decided to take the plunge to improve myself for the future I wanted. This role allowed me to bridge the gap between the clinical world and classroom theory and help facilitate activities that would better the new generation of laboratorians. I worked with local universities to spread the word of ASCLS activities, such as the Lab Week Run, to students who otherwise would enter the workforce without ever knowing the benefits of a professional society.
My time in this position allowed me to serve as a liaison between the Developing Professional members in the state of Michigan and the ASCLS-Michigan Board of Directors, where I was able to voice the concerns of the student body and address them directly. This role provided me with my first sense of community in ASCLS.
“This is the core of ASCLS; your community grows with you, and you will always have people in your corner.”
I often reflect on my first experience of public speaking at the annual state forum meeting. I still remember trying to do the “Superman” pose to gather enough confidence to captivate the audience. Kyle McCafferty, ASCLS-MI president-elect, took the time to find me after my presentation to tell me that I should be proud of myself, that I did a great job, and I am right where I am supposed to be. I still carry this with me to this day in all the roles I’ve taken on.
The sense of accomplishment and support from someone who I met in person for the first time that day meant a lot in the establishment of my community with ASCLS. This community grew as a fellow ASCLS-MI member, Caitlyn Madden, ASCLS-MI membership chair, took me under her wing and taught me how to network with other professionals and exhibitors. These experiences led me to the next chapter of my journey at the national level.
My First Joint Annual Meeting
This role at the state level blossomed into a passion for advocacy and providing guidance for the student members of the Society. This provided me with the encouragement to attend my first ASCLS, AGT & SAFMLS Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) in Louisville, Kentucky. I still remember walking into the first day feeling like I was in a “whole new world”; I was no longer in my classroom and felt as if I was entering the professional world. To be quite honest, for the majority of the day, I practically clung on to my professor’s arm for dear life. The turning point for me that week was when I attended the Developing Professionals Forum meeting. What stood out to me was to see in the back of the room ASCLS President Maddie Josephs and ASCLS President-elect Hassan Aziz taking time out of their busy schedules to greet all the students that entered that room. I was blown out of the water to see those leading the Society come to a student event and thank us for being there. This made me feel a sense of belonging that I think is often overlooked by MLS students.
As students, we often see ourselves at the bottom of the totem pole and sell ourselves short. I never would have expected to see those leading the Society make time for students when they could be tending to more pressing matters or catching up with friends, as most do at JAM. As a student this is where I felt like I was accepted and was on a level playing field with all the attendees. This was the encouragement I needed to join the national Developing Professionals Forum (DPF) as a councilor-at-large, which led to my current position as chair.
My First National Leadership Role
In this role I wanted to give back to the community that has provided me with so much support and guidance. I used my time as chair to provide students with volunteer opportunities, informative webinars, help other Developing Professionals navigate the Society, and developed a national trivia event designed to help students prepare for their certification exams. The DPF helped me find a sense of community, as I have met so many wonderful people who are in the same boat that I was in. Studying for exams, preparing for clinical internships, studying to take a national board exam, choosing between a generalist or specialist position, and everything in between. Here is where I made the most of my relationships.
The forum provides you with a built-in support system between your fellow Developing Professionals and the forum advisors, people who understand what you’re going through and are always willing to lend a helping hand or offer advice. The national level is something I thought I could never be involved with prior to attending JAM. I often felt that I didn’t have the leadership skills, I didn’t know enough about the profession to make a difference, or I didn’t think I had good enough ideas to make a lasting impact. But as Toula Castillo, DPF advisor, and Andrea Hickey, DPF staff liaison taught me, I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and they encouraged me to think outside the box.
They never once told us on the DPF board that our ideas were never going to amount to anything; it was always, how could we help make this a reality? They went above and beyond supporting us as students to take this leap of faith and get out of our comfort zones. DPF Vice Chair Jeremiah Oh encouraged me through my year as chair to take risks and develop new ideas for the forum. Jeremiah provided me with a support system to be able to lean on and encourage one another as we navigate our way through the professional world.
My community broadened once more as I entered the national Board of Directors for ASCLS. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at all intimidated. That way of thinking went out the door, as before I even had the chance to introduce myself, I was welcomed with open arms, with many board members reaching out to help steer me in a positive direction. ASCLS President Kim Von Ahsen not only provided me with resources to prepare me for board meetings but made it her mission to help me get up to speed quickly and hit the ground running. She also took the time to bond with me over the US women’s national soccer team and the upcoming World Cup. Many board members welcomed me into this new chapter, such as ASCLS Secretary/Treasurer Kyle Riding, who congratulated me on the position and informed me that no matter what I needed, he would be a resource for me, and that my voice mattered and was appreciated. This is the core of ASCLS; your community grows with you, and you will always have people in your corner.
Overall, this is what makes the ASCLS community unique—you have the opportunity to get involved with the profession you fell in love with and change it for the better. You have the chance to pave the way for the newest generation of medical laboratory professionals and change how this profession is viewed. Never let yourself get in your way; however small your role is, I promise you’ll end up creating relationships that are more than just colleagues, but rather a laboratory family. Even if you don’t know where you’ll go just yet or how your community will come together, just know you can always begin your ASCLS community with me. So, go ahead, take the plunge, encourage others to join our community, and I promise you’ll never be alone. As Dr. Seuss said, “You’re off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”
Katelyn Farrar is a Medical Laboratory Scientist in Automated Chemistry at Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.