Claude Rector, MA, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Region VII Director
What do you do? We have all been asked that question. How do you answer that question? Is it an easy question to answer? Do you think the person who asked that question understood your answer?
My first introduction to how one might answer that question was when I attended the ASCLS Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference (CLEC) in 2008. I had just taken the job as the MLT and phlebotomy program director at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas in Helena. As part of my NAACLS assignment for acting program director, I was to attend CLEC in Savannah, Georgia.
While in attendance, I was a witness to the debate on what the future held for the medical technologist. Dr. Blair Holladay, CEO of ASCP, updated attendees about the unification of the NCA and ASCP BOR. The National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel would join the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s Board of Registry and become the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC). The official date of the transition was October 23, 2009. The new names for the laboratory professionals were born. We would now be certified as a medical laboratory scientist (bachelor’s degree) or medical laboratory technician (associate degree).
“If a doctor is a doctor, a nurse is a nurse, and a pharmacist is a pharmacist, is there a name for the medical laboratory professional? What should we be called?”
Now after 10 years since the change in the certification names, I decided to check on how laboratory professionals are defined by a simple Google search. The following is what I found.
“A medical laboratory scientist, also traditionally referred to as a medical technologist or clinical laboratory scientist, is a healthcare professional who performs chemical, hematological, immunologic, histopathological, cytopathological, microscopic, and bacteriological diagnostic analyses on body fluids such as blood, urine, sputum, stool, cerebrospinal fluid, peritoneal fluid, pericardial fluid and synovial fluid, as well as other specimens.”
“Medical laboratory science professionals (also called clinical laboratory scientists or clinical laboratory technicians) are highly skilled scientists who discover the presence or absence of disease and provide data that help physicians determine the best treatment for the patient.
“Although they are not often personally involved with patients, medical laboratory scientists and technicians play a crucial role in the process of providing personalized care. They generate vitally important data for identifying and treating cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other health conditions.”
– Explore Health Careers, https://explorehealthcareers.org/career/allied-health-professions/clinical-laboratory-scientist-technician/
After the Google search, I wanted to check on how the states with licensure defined the laboratory professionals. What I discovered was that the states are not 100 percent behind one name. Eighty percent use clinical laboratory professional for licensure and the other 20 percent use medical laboratory professional. One might assume that they are two different professions, which is the point of this article. There is a problem with the laboratory professional name when it comes to national surveys that are looking for employment and wage data.
If a doctor is a doctor, a nurse is a nurse, and a pharmacist is a pharmacist, is there a name for the medical laboratory professional? What should we be called? Med tech? How about just laboratorian? Or do we go with a favorite of mine, “I work in the lab.”
I hope everyone is ready to share their thoughts on this topic. I remember the debate that arose when ASCLS introduced the new membership category names. Here is your chance to be heard. Please Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to reading and sharing your responses.
Claude Rector is assistant professor, clinical laboratory sciences, in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro.