Volume 35 Number 2 | April 2021
Maddie Josephs, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS President
In June of 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, I delivered my president-elect candidate presentation to ASCLS Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) attendees. I discussed the visibility of our profession, and what I outlined was certainly no surprise to anyone present. We all know why our profession suffers from lack of visibility. Of all the allied health professionals, medical laboratory scientists are among the very few—or perhaps the only ones—that have little to no patient contact.
There are also several allied health professionals that, even though they have patient contact, are mostly unknown to members of the general public. One of the programs I oversee at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) is the Respiratory Therapy Program. I often hear from faculty, students, and graduates of that program about how they are called “nurse” by patients as they administer a therapy. Even phlebotomists, the only representatives from the lab to have patient contact, are often mistaken for nurses. We are not alone in dealing with this issue. Yet, with physicians, all allied health professionals share a common commitment to patient well-being, and our valuable efforts are integral to quality patient care.
As I described at the 2019 JAM, we are starting to come out of the laboratory. But even with the creation of the Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science (DCLS), which has become part of the patient care team, our visibility is quite limited. There are comparatively few DCLS practitioners relative to the number of medical laboratory scientists and technicians in the country.
The pandemic, while difficult to find any positive things to describe it, did give us an opportunity to highlight our profession in a number of different arenas. There were webinars, letters to editor, articles and pieces on CNN, CNBC, ABC, and in The New York Times that were also highlighted on our ASCLS Open Forum, and it was so gratifying to see this kind of recognition. However, on a routine basis, other than the DCLS, how do we make ourselves seen? How can we show our value to healthcare consumers? The answer to this is bigger than just one person or professional organization.
Part of my duties as program director for the CCRI Medical Laboratory Technology Program include clinical site visits to ensure that students are achieving goals and competencies. I often have the opportunity to chat with clinical instructors and other professionals in the lab about ASCLS local meetings or even membership in our organization. Unfortunately, I am often met with statements that are counter to the values we hold dear in ASCLS.
Questions like, “Why should I join a professional organization? No one recognizes us as professionals.” And statements like, “Nurses get everything,” are fairly common. There are many reasons why nurses have always been and will always be visible, and I don’t need to list them for you. An article by Valerie Polansky that appeared in Clinical Leadership and Management Review in 2004 still rings true almost 17 years later. Unfortunately, not much has changed since the article first appeared.
As stated in her article, there are well over two million nurses in this country, and there are collectively more allied health professionals, but they are divided into more than 200 different professions. Let me add here that I truly respect the nursing profession, the work they do, and I do not begrudge them any deserved recognition. However, what they have in their favor is strength in numbers. This means that their voices are louder and therefore heard. And along with the requirement for professional licensure and established national standards, etc., this results in nursing professionals getting more recognition and support.
I suggest that the more cohesive a group that medical laboratory professionals become, and with inconsistencies in our professional titles addressed and finally resolved, we can come together for OUR voice to be heard so that we can be recognized. Keep in mind that we are not just trying to be loud, rather, we are trying to be heard, with appropriate messaging to gain support, both legislative and financial; to optimize our scope of practice; and to recruit more individuals to support our existing workforce.
Why is recognition important? It is not because we are looking for accolades. It is because increasing our visibility will help us with federal legislation that not only addresses the workforce shortage, but also other issues like revamping the clinical laboratory fee schedule. Currently, ASCLS is working to advance legislation to support clinical laboratory educational programs, as well as the students enrolled in those programs and hopefully the clinical sites that support programs by providing clinical education. This kind of support can also help struggling programs.
One of the many unfortunate consequences of the COVID pandemic is the potential closure of some laboratory science programs throughout the country. I just heard of another potential closure last week. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Medical laboratory science program closures will exacerbate an already dire situation that some areas of the country are experiencing right now. Not a week goes by when I don’t get an email from a recruiting firm or laboratory hiring manager asking if there are any recent graduates from my program who are still looking for employment. Clearly the positions are there, and we need to recruit, educate, and graduate competent individuals for these roles. Federal dollars must be allocated to help laboratory science programs, along with other allied health programs, to ensure a competent healthcare workforce. Legislation can help this profession realize this goal. Again, to get this kind of support, we need more voices.
ASCLS is the premiere professional society for medical laboratory professionals. If you are reading this, you are likely a member. It is up to all of us, administrators, educators, and those at work in our laboratories every day, to speak up and use our voices in a positive and meaningful way to bring recognition to what I consider a most honorable profession. ASCLS exists, not just for our members, but for all laboratory scientists. Let’s all raise our voices together to be heard AND seen. All of this for the advancement of the profession and to support its contribution to the 21st century workforce.
Maddie Josephs is Chair of the Allied Health Department and Director of the MLT & Histotechnician Programs at the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln, Rhode Island.