By Katelyn Farrar, Clinical Diagnostic Science - Undergraduate Student
When questioned about the different professions in health care, it’s likely that the majority of individuals would simply answer, “physicians or nurses”. Where do laboratory professionals fall in the healthcare pantheon? Why are professionals in our field so often overlooked? What needs to change for us to garner more recognition in healthcare?
As a student, one of the most consistently asked questions I receive about my major is, “What is a Medical Laboratory Scientist?” or “What does a Medical Laboratory Scientist do?”. These questions are expected as the laboratory profession is not typically included in the headspace of most people when they think about healthcare professions. In my experience, I’ve interacted with many folks who are unaware of the healthcare professionals providing their laboratory results. Those who provide vital health information for patients seem to mostly fly under the radar.
Many people are unaware that a Medical Laboratory Scientist is a key provider in reporting laboratory results for blood and bodily fluid tests. 60-70% of diagnoses rely on information provided by allied health professionals, and doctors and nurses could not perform their jobs effectively without this support.1 We should emphasize this statistic to students who want to go into health care in order to expose another avenue for patient care. Doctors and nurses are not the only contributors when it comes to health care. Allied health professionals comprise up to 60% of all healthcare workers.2 With the majority of the sector being allied healthcare workers, why do so many positions remain vacant? Why aren’t students being directed to allied health roles? In my opinion, recognition for our profession is falling through the cracks of the American healthcare system. I believe it’s time for our roles to take center stage. Health care is a collaborative effort, contributed to by all professionals. However, laboratorians are rarely given the credit they deserve for the contribution they make toward patient care.
The relative invisibility and lack of recognition for the laboratory science profession is self-sustaining. It’s important to realize how little about the profession is broadly known. I’ve encountered other healthcare professionals that did not realize what a Medical Laboratory Scientist does; yet our work underlies and braces a variety of other professions. As a student, I want to pursue a profession that is not only personally rewarding, but also one where my work is valued and appreciated. I want to be recognized for my contributions to patient care, even if I’m not interacting directly with the patient. When will laboratorians be acknowledged in the healthcare system in a fashion similar to nurses and physicians? Personal fulfillment aside, imagine how more recognition could positively influence this discipline!
A vital call to action is needed for the future. There are many ways that current professionals and undergraduates can establish a stronger workforce. One way to strengthen the medical laboratory science field might be through promotion. Students could be great representatives for the field and are arguably the best way to encourage other students to consider this career. Current students and recent graduates could connect with fellow peers on a personal level and introduce them to more experienced professionals through networking. I believe the most critical need for our profession is to demand support from our employers. In my personal experience, I have seen numerous nurses and doctors represent hospitals in the public eye, but I have never seen allied health professionals being put forth in those roles. I’ve seen employers present awards for physicians and nurses, but where are the awards for laboratorians? The need for recognition arguably starts with those that employ laboratorians. Imagine the benefits of being recognized by your employer; the impact on work burnout could be outstanding. Undergraduate students might feel more inclined to enter a career that is well supported. Although we contribute to patient care hidden behind doors, it does not mean we don’t play a crucial role in saving lives. Laboratorians have earned the right to be recognized. I encourage professionals to inform their employers as to how critical it is to acknowledge the service we provide. Finally, spreading the word to students and other professionals about joining a professional society could aid in advocating for laboratory professionals more broadly in the long term. Collective action could produce cascading results. I would encourage program directors, professors, and laboratory professionals to spread the word about professional societies. I’ve had the great pleasure of having professors guide me as I headed toward becoming a professional. It’s their influence that has led me to become an advocate for this field so early on in my career.
Besides advocating for recognition, I hope there are opportunities for broader impact across the field. I believe that all laboratory professionals can work together to reinvent our profession. We deserve to be valued and acknowledged. I believe there’s an urgent need for more recognition of the laboratory occupation, and I hope that in the coming years, laboratorians are looked upon as more than just an “out of sight, out of mind” profession.
1. Mayo Clinic - College of Medicine and Science. Medical Laboratory Science. https://college.mayo.edu/academics/explore-health-care-careers/ careers-a-z/medical-laboratory-scientist/
2. Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions (2015, October 27). What is Allied Health? https://www.asahp.org/what-is
Katelyn Farrar is also the ASCLS-MI Developing Professional Representative, ASCLS Developing Professional Forum Councilor at Large, and Oakland University - Biochemistry and Endocrinology Student Research Assistant