Being a medical laboratory scientist is more profession than occupation. Those of us who are affiliated with ASCP through our certification or work know the value of being part of an organization that values education, certification, and advocacy for patients. Finding a place in this network has given me a strong foundation through years of understanding a “best practices” paradigm. If you’ve been following my posts these last few months, you’ll have heard all about my work with Zika virus prevention and detection initiatives on the island country of Sint Maarten. Being here at the right time and right place have provided ample opportunity to flourish as a medical student with a history of laboratory experience. Recently, my school honored me with the Social Accountability Award and Scholarship for outstanding service during my time as a student with respect for my colleagues and the surrounding community of Sint Maarten. Having authored proposals and leading initiatives coalesced into an ongoing functional public health initiative, partnered with local government and NGOs. My experience as a certified scientist allowed me to build on three major ASCP foundations:
- Leadership. Receiving the award from the school validated my confidence in the work that I and my team have been doing this last year. Letters of recommendation came from my service-learning course director and Dean of Community Affairs, and the consultant advisor to the public health prevention office of the local Ministry of Health. The Dean of Medical Sciences even spoke about me with kind words and an inspired tone that really meant a lot to me, personally. This overall validation was not just for me—it was for the work, my team, and our efforts in local public health. The exercise in textbook-to-field informatics, education, and interventions could not have come to fruition without experiences I drew from in my lab years. Responding to CAP inspections, spearheading changes to SOPs or operations, and being a voice at the conference table taught me how to collaborate as well as lead.
- Education. If there’s anything I would say has been paramount in my time (both here in medical school and back in the lab) it’s the value of education. I could not do the work or pursue the projects I do today without backgrounds in molecular science, lab informatics, or general pathology and disease. Through numerous degrees and opportunities to work in the field of laboratory medicine, there are countless venues for someone to continue to patient care. My journey included a foundation of molecular biology, a graduate degree in lab science, an ASCP certificate with continuing maintenance as an MLS—now in post graduate work; I continue to work and learn in a dynamic environment. I have created SOPs from scratch, researched literature on seroprevalence and epidemiological statistics, managed and interpreted specimen collection and ELISA testing, and contributed to public health awareness and education. If you want diverse and exciting, this field has it! Education doesn’t stop with the degrees and certificates on the wall behind my desk, however. A very important, and arguably mandatory part, of being a scientist/clinician is being able to engage in an educational conversation with a wide variety of audiences. Talking about Zika virus prevention, seroprevalence, and risk mitigation is a different conversation with children, or local adults, or medical colleagues.
- Advocacy. Finally, I should say: if there’s one major thing professional organizations like the ASCP do for its members and our communities, it’s advocacy. Giving a concrete voice and substantial representation to the causes we care about as professionals yields positive returns for our overall shared goal of improved patient outcomes. My work here is first as a medical student, and second as a public health partner. Sharing and collaborating on how this community can best utilize its resources to address a local epidemic is at the forefront of my team’s work. When I started this project, I was inspired by the aims and goals of the Partners for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa Initiative from the ASCP Foundation. I first heard about this at the annual meeting in Long Beach, and, as I prepared for my own stint overseas, I tried to keep that close to heart. Improving global health outcomes and increasing laboratory visibility were two of the major tenets of this project. Proudly, I would say I’ve been involved in both aims. Clear success has been documented (and continues to be seen!) in my Zika initiatives, and more and more people engage in conversations with me about translational medicine. With all my documents signed “C. Kanakis, MS, MLS (ASCP),” people have been surprised by all the things someone with “just a lab” background can really do! Breaking stereotypes and inspiring others to reach out for improving patient outcomes is all part of the same conversation I have with my community partners.
In short, my work with Zika virus prevention is an ongoing project, with new events and achievements tallied weekly. But before I get back to recounting the most successful events each month, I wanted to take a step back and say that I could not have been a Social Accountability Award recipient in this community without first learning the way to be a leader, educator, and advocate in our community.
Thanks for reading! Until next time…
–Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean and actively involved with local public health.