Volume 36 Number 4 | August 2022

Kim Von Ahsen, MHA, MLS(ASCP)CM, SLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS President, 2022-23

Kim Von AhsenI couldn’t have imagined that 18 years ago when I searched the internet for “Iowa + laboratory + professional + organization” that a search result of the Iowa Association of Clinical Laboratory Science (now ASCLS-Iowa) would lead me to this moment.

The “how” I found ASCLS was pretty simple; the “why” I went looking is a bit more complicated.

Why? I was seeking community.

My journey to the laboratory came by way of a detour. A detour, that at the time, had left me feeling hopeless and a failure; however, it would later bring me exactly where I was meant to be. The truth is, I didn’t want to be a laboratory professional. I wanted to be an exotic animal veterinarian. All my plans growing up centered around this dream. I wanted to work in a zoo. I wanted to work with gorillas, penguins, giraffes, and even reptiles. After graduating from high school, I attended Iowa State University and began my major in Zoology. Being the first from a lower-middle class family to attend a four-year university, I worked during college to pay for my education and expenses.

Unknowingly, it would be this need to work that would bring me to the laboratory profession and ASCLS. At 16, I started working at a movie theater, the Southridge 3. This job would give me my first sense of what a supportive community could be and how connections can create loyalty. It’s this loyalty that kept me working there through college—even if that meant adding an hour commute to each shift. During my junior year at Iowa State, the ability for me to pay for college became more and more challenging. Also at this time, I had a very important friend in crisis … a friend who needed my support. I made the difficult decision to take a year off, accept an assistant manager position, and work fulltime. The plan was to save money to return to school and provide support to my friend. One year became two, and while I knew that my decision was necessary, I felt defeated.

Obstacles aren’t ends; they just change the path. To understand the next part of the journey, you need to know that I’m the proud daughter of a strong, single mother who raised three young children while going to nursing school. Her strength came from her parents, Betty and Kenny, whose love and character were instrumental in my life. My mother, Rosalyn, taught me that life doesn’t always go as planned and that we are asked to do things that are difficult. Her compassion and love of nursing was something, as children, we observed often. The grateful families, the hard days, and the pride of making a difference. She suggested that maybe a good way to get back on track was to return to community college, which was accessible and affordable.

While I admired her career—she began in the NICU and moved to critical care—I knew how challenging nursing had been for her. Nursing was not the path for me, but I remembered the major my sorority sister at Iowa State was going to school for—clinical laboratory science. Off to the internet again! This time the search result was the Medical Laboratory Technician Program at Des Moines Area Community College. I thought, “I could do that!” It merged my need for job stability and my love of science. After graduating, I started my first lab job at Iowa Lutheran Hospital, the hospital that my mother worked at for almost 35 years. Lutheran is where I realized it wasn’t just a job but a profession, a profession I didn’t even know I was looking for. Lutheran is where, one day, after taking on every project I could, I knew there must be more I could do. That more became ASCLS.

ASCLS gave me community, a community with purpose and a mission. I was working in a career I loved; however, I felt that something was missing. I was missing a community that was advocating about the critical role and importance of the laboratory as part of the healthcare team.

For many, I just described grassroots. Grassroots, at its most impactful, can mobilize locally to have influence and advocate on matters important to that community. Yet, this isn’t the only way in which grassroots can be described. For that, I’d like to talk about the best sport in the world, the beautiful game of soccer.

The term grassroots, in soccer, describes the most elementary form of the game that anyone can play.

Grassroots soccer is built upon the foundation that soccer is accessible to all ages and ability, the first introduction to the sport is enjoyable, and there are opportunities to participate at the appropriate level throughout one’s life. By focusing on the most foundational aspects of the game, soccer organizations have seen that it can lead to greater participation numbers. With increased participation, there is more support of players and coaches which results in improved performance and financial benefits to the organization. Ultimately, these benefits are reinvested into the growth and development of the sport.

If we were to look to our most elementary form of grassroots in ASCLS—where the first introduction to the Society is made and opportunities exist for all levels of professionals—it would be our constituent societies. At this year’s Mid-Year House of Delegates meeting, I affirmed the Board of Directors belief that what differentiates ASCLS from other laboratory groups is having a strong network of constituent societies. A network that delivers support and value to laboratory professionals where they work and live.

It’s critical that we expand our understanding of grassroots to encompass not only grassroots that provide influence but
grassroots that support the fundamental value of our constituent societies.

Supporting BOTH the foundational and influential grassroots needed for ASCLS to be a thriving organization is evident in the vision and strategic work of the board. Beginning this fall, policy changes will be implemented that are grounded in the decades of work by our members. Work that understands that the value of our roots is in the strength of our community.

Key Health Indicators
  • The first objective and actionable assessment of the constituent societies will be conducted by the Constituent Society Steering Committee using the work of the Constituent Society Taskforce. This annual assessment will guide the development of interventions and educational programs to strengthen our constituent societies.
Leverage and Amplify the Collective
  • Providing direct submission of input from the constituent societies to the Board of Directors that is unfiltered and transparent. Input coming from, led by, and accountable to the people most impacted to inform strategic discussions.
  • Redirecting the Regional Council’s function and purpose to focus on shared learning and resources that will build stronger bonds of community among constituent societies.
Preparing Future Board Members
  • Establishing minimum qualifications and key attributes for the Board of Directors will ensure effective leadership. All while providing future leaders with a self-assessment tool of their leadership readiness to serve on the board. Combined with a job description that provides clear roles and responsibilities, the leaders of ASCLS will be equipped to face the ever-changing and evolving healthcare environment.

I believe it takes courageous and daring leadership to address the concerns from our past, take action in the present, and have the vision to prepare for the future.

I believe that growing the reach of our constituent societies—the very roots that distinguish and differentiate ASCLS from all other laboratory organizations—is the destination. A destination that will strengthen the ability of ASCLS to deliver on our mission and even overcome the obstacles by changing the path. I hope you embrace the journey with me.

Kim Von Ahsen is the Laboratory Quality and Safety Specialist at UnityPoint – Health Des Moines, Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa.