To Be Needed

I am finally on top of the homework that piled up in my absence while I was on vacation and hoping to get back to posting now.

Earlier this week, a forwarded email landed in my inbox with the subject line, “desperate plea.” I assumed it was one of those chain emails in which Bill Gates will stomp a kitten unless I forward it to all my hapless friends, but in fact it was quite the opposite.

The email was written by a pastor of some apparent influence (given that it made it to me) in his community whose wife is the director of the laboratory in the next town north of where I live. It is a small enough lab that she probably employs under a dozen people and as such, the fact that she has two open positions that she cannot fill presents a serious staffing issue. How much her inability to find qualified staff has to do with the remote nature of the hospital isn’t clear, but here’s what I do know: we do need more med techs. It is absolutely as desperate a situation has the letter implies.

Go into any medical laboratory in this country and you will likely find it is well staffed. Look closer, however and you may notice that the overwhelming majority of staff are older than 45 years old, and many are within years of retirement. We have a looming shortage of qualified medical technologists and the impact on our healthcare system cannot be understated. When these men and women retire, without smart and talented new grads to replace them turn around times will increase greatly, test menus will shrink, and result accuracy will suffer.

You think you have to wait forever in the ER now, imagine what it will be like when every patient that comes in with chest pain/arm pain/dizziness/etc has to be treated with heart attack protocols for the hours it will take to get cardiac enzymes turned around from the lab. In a trauma situation, doctors and patients can’t afford to wait, but wait they will if we cannot avert this crisis.

Obviously, we need to get more people interested in laboratory science. Most people have never even heard of it, I am constantly having to explain to anyone that asks. The funny thing is, once people know, they are always very interested. I think many people never even stop to consider what happens to their blood after it’s drawn- those that do tend to believe doctors or nurses run the tests or that they are fully automated. Even the internet is tight lipped- a google search finds the ASCP website (which despite being our primary professional organization is remarkably bereft of good, layman level information) and departmental pages from some of the major universities who offer the degree (including mine!).

That is why I have been writing this blog, and telling everyone who will stay still for even a few minutes how important it is we propel our smart, driven, and detail oriented kids towards careers like medical laboratory science. The high school students who end up the lab are invariably HOSA members who want to be nurses and are usually visibly irritated at having to take a detour into the loud, windowless room with all the complicated machines. We need the honors chem kids, the biology nerds, and the math junkies; who will look under the microscope at the blood smear for the first time and be irrevocably changed. Who will see not a mess of indecipherable cells but a passion and a calling.

I challenge everyone who reads this blog post to talk to at least one person they know about MLS. In fact, here’s a video you can show them:

Our healthcare system depends on our efforts now. This effects all of us.

We are needed.

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