So, I’m going to continue the thread from my previous blog post next week since this is Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (or what we affectionately refer to as Lab Week). Coincidentally, for a public health-oriented person like me, Earth Day (April 22) is also during this week; globally, some celebrate the entire week as Earth Week. So, I encourage you to celebrate both.
Pathology can be a hidden or invisible profession to many, even more so on the lab side. Even though we are dependent on lab results to guide clinical care (at least 70% of clinical decisions are guided by lab results), it’s easy to forget that there are lab professionals and pathologists working assiduously, sometimes late into the night, behind the scenes to make sure we receive timely and accurate, lab results for our patients.
So, what exactly is Lab Week? It’s the time each year when we celebrate and recognize these lab professionals and pathologists, a time where we recognize them as more than nameless faces but as team members who vitally and equally contribute to patient care. Many hospitals and health care centers will highlight the work of those in their clinical labs with poster sessions and talks on relevant topics this week. Some will also cater Lab Week celebrations for their staff as a thank you for all their diligent work that often goes unrecognized or taken for granted during the rest of the year.
So, as we residents, what can we do? Well, first, we can get to know our lab professionals and this week in particular, personally thank them for all their hard work. I’m pretty sure it’ll bring a smile to their faces if you make a deliberate effort to recognize and say “thank you” this week. We can learn their names and get to know them on a personal level and not just when we need a test result or to troubleshoot a lab related issue.
I’m on pretty friendly terms with most of the lab techs from my clinical rotations. They have invited me to department holiday celebrations (even when I’m not on their rotation), gave great feedback about me to my rotation director/attending (trust me, they often do get to comment on how you perform during a CP rotation), and gave me a heads up to help me out of potentially difficult situations. I’ve learned a lot from them and they’re always happy when we show interest in their work. Plus, I never treat anyone in a formal hierarchical manner (no one calls me “Dr. Chung” but rather “Dr. Betty” or just by my first name). I acknowledge that there is always something that they teach me and that I believe that we are colleagues working together on a team…not that I am the doctor and they are not. And often, lab professionals will be the first to detect a potential patient clinical issue, even if they have limited patient history access, so I totally give them props when they help me out in this way. And having a good attitude with your lab staff, as I mentioned, can go a long way for both your learning and advancement on the rotation.
As residents, CP rotations are often when we have the opportunity (as opposed to surgpath) to take vacation time and many look at these rotations as unofficial boards study time. But spending physical time in the lab is still learning. And for me, I learn better by doing as opposed to sitting in a lecture or sitting at my desk reading a textbook. The lab regulatory policies and management issues (and even the basic science concepts) we need to know to pass boards, we can learn more efficiently if we spend actual time IN the lab working alongside our lab professionals on these very issues. In the lab, we can also serve as consultants for our referring physicians on the intricacies and appropriateness of specific lab tests and help with regulatory (CAP/CLIA) inspections – even if your rotation doesn’t specifically require this, you can still ask to be more involved – trust me, you’ll learn more this way (and it is boards studying).
So, how are you planning to celebrate Lab Week and acknowledge those in the clinical labs this week? While you’re at all, you can help contribute to Earth Day/Earth Week as well by committing yourself to being more environmentally conscious (don’t forget to recycle!) from this week forth.
–Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.