It is the beginning of National Medical Laboratory Week, and I would like to raise the public awareness of my profession. The theme for this year is “Laboratory Professionals: The Heart of the Medical Investigation Team.” I find this theme to be very appropriate. Like a heart is to a body, so laboratory professionals are to the medical community.
Like a heart, laboratory professionals are essential to the life of the medical community. For example, there several tests that are useful, if not essential, in monitoring, treating and controlling diabetes, such as glucose testing, hemoglobin A1C, kidney markers, c-peptide, lipid profiles, fructosamine, arterial blood gas and microalbumin. Clinical laboratory scientists are the laboratory professionals that provide physicians with these test results. Managing diabetes clinically without these laboratory tests would be very difficult.
Like a heart, laboratory professionals are hidden from view. So if nurses and physicians are the visible hands and feet of the medical community then laboratory professionals are the unseen heart that keeps it running.
The patient who gets the results of a biopsy from their physician is unaware of the time, talent and expertise of the histotechnologists, cytotechnologists and pathologists that sectioned, stained, read and reported the diagnosis of the biopsy. Histotechnologists, cytotechnologists and pathologists are also laboratory professionals that are integral partners in the healthcare delivery system.
Like a heart, laboratory professionals can be taken for granted or overlooked. Lance Armstrong’s legs, Einstein’s brain, C. Everett Koop’s hands, Mia Hamm’s feet and Lena Horne’s voice are the aspects of these people we think of when we consider their achievements, but their hearts coordinate the supply of oxygen, the delivery of energy and the removal of wastes to keep their hands, legs, brains, feet and voices running.
In the same respect, phlebotomists are laboratory professionals who are often taken for granted. A blood draw is often the only connection a patient will have with the laboratory. Yet that blood draw is critically important. A patient’s satisfaction often hinges on it. The phlebotomist’s attention to detail when accurately labeling the specimen is essential. And the shear amount of time that phlebotomists save nurses and clinical laboratory scientists by doing the “leg work” of specimen collection is often taken for granted.
Pathologists, histotechnologists, cytotechnologists, phlebotomists, and clinical laboratory scientists are the variety of men and women working behind the scenes in the laboratory 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure that nurses, physicians, physician assistants, radiation therapists, dieticians and respiratory therapists have the information necessary to perform their jobs on the front lines.
If a study were performed regarding laboratory tests, data and results, I believe it would reveal that very few medical situations occur that do not involve the work of a laboratory professional. Likewise, very few medical decisions are made without the consideration of information produced by a medical laboratory. Like a heart, the medical laboratory is essential to the life and health of the medical community body.
This article and “National Medical Laboratory Week” are not attempts to brag, pat ourselves on the back or grandstand, but simply attempts to allow all of us working in the medical laboratory an opportunity to share in the recognition and appreciation that our colleagues in the “more-visible” professions of the medical community receive.
Michael Archer is a clinical laboratory science educator for Mount Nittany Medical Center and Penn State University.