Bridge Builder: How I navigated my first year as a laboratory scientist during a pandemic.By: Jasmine Belton, MLS(ASCP)cm
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Excerpt from The Bridge Builder
by Will Allen Dromgoole
Growing up I always wanted to be someone's hero, as most of us do, right? Everything I did, and even my career path, had to make sense and be somehow impactful to my community and to others. Because of this, I entered this career very "green." I graduated the Coronavirus Class of Spring 2020 from the University of Louisiana Monroe where our graduation was canceled/postponed three times before it finally took place (with restrictions) in April of this year. The robbed experience of fully celebrating all that I had accomplished scholastically only helped fuel my eagerness and impatience to finally join the "healthcare hero" team. However, I didn't actually start working until August of 2020, so now nine months in, I've finally finished cross-training and have been working the bench as a night medical laboratory scientist. Although I caught the tail end of the effects this pandemic had on our work force, I've since learned that the title of hero and the actual position of a hero have very contrasting perks and experiences. I thought that with the pandemic's media coverage and curious minds that our field would finally get some recognition and people could learn about our work real-time - and they did - but we've also faced much scrutiny with our field being clouded by all the circulating misinformation. So upon working, I wasn't welcomed into an atmosphere of new possibilities and opportunities to recruit, or so I thought. I witnessed drained, overworked and underpaid professionals on a national scale just trying to do their part to save lives while also just getting through the day.
Coming from a newbie, I see you and can empathize. I may not understand completely, but your feelings are valid. I had to come to the realization, though, that while the "OG's" feelings were valid, mine were too! It was okay to be excited. It was okay to still long to be recruiting and trying to be one of the many "faces" of a hidden field, even during draining, monotonous times. I also learned, however, there must be balance to make the overall work environment smoother.
My professors always said that working on night shift would make me stronger. I wasn't aware of all the ways how, though. I assumed of course the cross-training and having to prioritize and be able to stand alone was it, but starting when I did also made it a very sobering experience. I think one of our biggest problems in the workplace, and in society, is that we sometimes struggle to understand someone's perspective if it's outside our scope. If we are used to viewing things one way, the task is sometimes too overwhelming to try on a different lens. What do I mean? If you've ever watched the anime series "Naruto," in one of the episodes you'll observe him be dubbed the moniker "hyperactive, knucklehead ninja." I won't spoil too much for those unaware but a loose characterization of him would be a person who everyone knows has greatness in him, but he's troublesome, naïve, slightly an airhead, and FULL OF ENERGY. I can relate to some of this. I'm not troublesome, I don't believe. I might spill a urine or two, but that's about it. As I mentioned earlier though, I came into this field green. I've always been a one to press through hardship and see the best in any given situation, but I never experienced a challenge quite like this.
I'm a hard worker, don't get me wrong, but there's always something that could be better. One night, the lead and I had "the talk" before our shift began. It wasn't anything bad, just constructive critiques on things to be more mindful of. I had two options at this point: take it offensively and brush it off, or breathe, think it through, and receive it. Sometimes in life we get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget to empathize with those around us. My critiques were basically that for the departments I wasn't fully trained in yet, to still be on the look-out for small things I could do to help when the lab gets overwhelmed and my department is free. I can be so wrapped up in me, that I forget to reach out and help at times. My naivety of being a new grad clouds my vision and can be a hindrance if left unchecked. That day, I received the advice of trying on the different lenses of seasoned workers of x amounts of years, who just wanted a little more support to make the overall environment smoother. It makes me refer back to the poem The Bridge Builder and how me ignoring that advice could've been a pitfall for me in many ways, but in the same way that my team has so patiently trained this "hyperactive, knucklehead," that the hard advice then was still them building a bridge to me. Only changing my perspective allowed me to appreciate that.
Their willingness to see me be the best I can be even through short shifts, a pandemic, too many natural disasters to name and also manage to come to work and find ways to smile, laugh, and EAT with me has carried me through trying times professionally and personally. That day that I decided to receive that advice, I not only received it on a surface level for the betterment of running our night shift, but I let that advice permeate to other areas in my life in the form of building networks of bridges. (To find out the ways that I do that off the clock feel free to check out my personal blog, http://www.thebutterflyblogs.site ).
Although the frustration over the past year and a half has tried to dim my light professionally with recruiting, I will still carry my burden and go out and find great potential newbies just like me. I will stand on the shoulders of those who have helped me make it thus far and while they may be too tired, or may have already carried their own part previously, I will pick up where they left off in this great race to grow our field. See, calling yourself a hero sounds really nice, I longed for it for years, but BEING a hero is having a bloody, but unbowed head during times where you feel like your back is against the wall. It is not easy, but with support, it is doable. If we all change our perspective as needed and try a different lenses' view, we might not only learn something, but we will find the paths where we can start building our own bridges in this journey called life.
This blog is inspired by the local organization B.R.I.D.G.E., Inc. (Building Relationships Inside Different Generations and Ethnicities).