Lab Safety for Every Member of the Team

Gretchen had been the lab secretary for six months, and she was getting comfortable in the role. From her office she scheduled meetings for the manager and paid bills, but her job took her into the lab proper at least once every day. She liked that her job allowed her to wear skirts and sandals in the hot summer months-she was glad she didn’t have to follow the dress code that was used in the lab.

Stephan was new to the lab courier team, and his training had to occur quickly since he replaced someone who filled weekend slots often. He was shown the routes to drive, but when trained in the lab area, he was only shown where to pick up and drop off specimens.

Dr. Kane had been the lab medical director for many years. One day she was talking to the histology tech and noticed the use of pictogram labels on secondary chemical containers. She had no idea what they were for, and she asked how long the lab had been using them.

Unfortunately, these scenarios are realistic, and they illustrate a problem that can create deep roots in a laboratory, and those roots can lead to a poor safety culture that will be difficult to manage. If you’re in charge of safety in the lab, it is vital to know who needs safety training, how to give that training, and when to provide it.

The who is important. Does your lab host students for clinical rotations? Do research personnel perform tasks in the department? Administrative personnel and even lab leaders who enter the department should also have safety training on record. Don’t expect pathologists to keep up with the latest safety regulations on their own either, they have many other things on their plates. Even if they are under contract and not truly employees, they should be included with certain safety training offerings. Consider biomedical engineering personnel and maintenance workers- some safety training can prevent accidents and exposures for those important team members as well. Fully train couriers and phlebotomists or anyone else who will process specimens in the lab setting. If you’re just starting to figure out safety training in your lab, make a list of all the different people who may enter the area.

Clearly all of these various people will not need the same level of lab safety training. A courier might need to know about dry ice safety, for example, but that information may mean nothing to the secretary. Be sure to customize the training for the different employees as needed. Nothing will turn people off faster than information they don’t need. If there are changes to safety regulations that require new education, be sure to involve laboratory medical staff. For example, the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System in 2016 or this year’s EPA Generator Improvement Regulations both created major changes with lab safety processes. The lab medical director is responsible for oversight of the lab, and not having knowledge about such major changes can hinder that responsibility and expose the lab to both safety and accreditation issues.

Now that you know who to train and what education is needed for each role, it is time to figure out when and how to provide that lab safety training. Some topics require annual training by OSHA and other agencies, and a computer-based module is usually acceptable. That said, other required training must include live interaction, quizzes, return demonstrations and certificates of completion. It can be a complicated task to figure out which is which, and reviewing the requirements from the source agency (OSHA, DOT, EPA, CAP, etc.) will guide you. Next, it becomes important to know your audience- those who will receive the training. What type of education will work best- a live class, computer modules, webinar, interactive round-table sessions- there may be a need for a combination of these styles.

Once you determine your safety training needs and methods, there will be more to consider in order to maintain a steady culture of safety. Conducting regular drills to ensure staff understanding should be added to your calendar. Fire drills, evacuation drills, disaster drills, and hazardous spill drills are just some that can be conducted throughout the year to ensure staff readiness. Consider giving out information on a specific safety topic each month at staff meetings. This reinforcement of the required training will benefit the entire team and the lab safety program.

It takes time and effort to create a solid laboratory safety training program. If you have to start at the beginning, learn your resources and ask for help. If you are taking over a safety program already in place, make sure the on-going training meets regulations, and create a plan to continually raise safety awareness in the laboratory for all whose job may take them into the department. That will create long-lasting value and safety for every member of the team.

 

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Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

History of Generations: Gen X

Generation X stands out from other generations in a few ways. This generation is an integral part of the current work force, but both the previous generation (Baby Boomers) and the next generation (Generation Y) are significantly larger. Because they are sandwiched between these two, Generation X will never be the largest generation at work, but they still have a significant influence.

Generation X is the first generation in which their parents either both worked outside of the home in large numbers or were raised in single-parent households. This had a lot to do with the fact that divorce was becoming more common in the Western world and more women started to work outside the home. These children thus grew up a lot more independent and are known in the United States as “latch-key kids” because they would come home from school to an empty house. They started their school years without computers, but many finished their schooling with computers so they were raised in the transition phase from the information to the digital age.

This generation also grew up during significant events that shaped our world today. Some examples are the Cold War, the Challenger disaster, Chernobyl, the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela.

Generation X is known for being very entrepreneurial, partly because of their cynical attitude towards large companies who failed their parents, and partly because of their independence, adaptability, and flexibility. Their desires are focused on the smaller scale; for example, they want to save their neighborhood, not the world. Typically, Generation X marry later in life, sometimes after cohabitating, and are quicker to divorce. They see values as a relative concept but they have a strong belief that people should be open-minded and tolerate everyone.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.


 

Hello everyone.  It’s your baby-boomer, Catherine, again.  I’d like to share with you my experience of what it’s like to be the parent of children from the Gen X generation, and working with a Gen Xer.

As with most of our generations, there are varying dates of when the generation started and when it ended, so let’s make it simple and go with the mid 1960’s as the start of the Gen Xer’s, ending in the early 1980’s.

Parenting Gen Xers 

I’m the proud parent of two Gen Xers. My son Mitch is 45 years old, and my daughter Katie is 42. Just because they are sandwiched between two of the largest generations, don’t underestimate the Gen X generation!  As I researched generations and was writing a course on generations, (“DeCoding American Generations”), it became clear that my children shared in the experiences of this richly gifted generation.

This generation is often referred to as the “latchkey generation.”  My children, Mitch and Katie, were the typical grammar school Gen Xers because I was one of those divorce statistics.  As a single mom, they came home from school every day with their house key in hand.  They learned responsibilities, became very independent, and became street smart.

The Gen Xers were the first to introduce the other generations to the concept of work-life balance. Both Mitch and Katie place a high value on quality of life.  Over the years, both of them have moved from higher paying jobs to lesser paying jobs in order to improve the quality of their family life.

What I’ve learned working with Gen Xers

As a “Boomer,” my greatest learning from the Gen Xers is the importance of work-life balance. In my current position at ASCP, I’ve had the privilege of working with people of this gifted generation.  They not only walk the talk of work life balance; they encourage others to do the same. I’ve listened to their stories and they’re not afraid to change jobs or careers, which is so different from their Baby Boomer parents.  It is often written that they acquired a cynical attitude toward corporate America because of the diminished employee loyalty their parents experienced. However, the Gen Xer took the high road and overcame the fear of changing jobs.  They took what they learned through their childhood and developed courage, the kind of courage that it takes to receive feedback and be the forever continual learner.  I’ll always be grateful to co-workers like Carroll, who would walk by my office at 5:30 at night “tapping her watch.”  She sent the Gen X message that life is about more than just work.

 

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-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.  

Leading in a VUCA World

Leading people can be a challenging task regardless of the industry or size of an organization. Adding volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment into the mix and the leadership challenge increases. Today’s organizations are increasingly complex, ambiguous, uncertain, and volatile because change is accelerating and intensifying. How can leaders equip themselves to manage a VUCA workplace? The first step is understanding what each terms means.

Volatile Situations describe circumstances that change constantly and unexpectedly, and a certain level of instability of a task or challenge is present. However, the best leadership approach is to use available information, be proactive, and have multiple plans and strategies in place. An example of a volatile circumstance is a natural disaster. In such a circumstance not only is the natural disaster a volatile situation, but also the constantly changing nature of the aftermath; which emergency agencies are coming and when, where are people stuck, etc. There are a lot of changes occurring in a volatile situation.   Being proactive and prepared in volatile circumstances can be expensive, but that preparation is necessary to handle these situations.

Uncertain Situations are situations known for a lack of information, so on some level they are the opposite of volatile situations. In uncertain circumstances there is no reliable information about cause and effect and it is not known if change will happen, can happen, or have a positive effect if it does happen. The best approach in these circumstances is to find more information, more data, and more analytics. Once leaders have access to more data, they need to make sure the data is analyzed and implemented into new strategies and change processes. An example of an uncertain situation is when a competitor suddenly emerges that takes direct aim at your company by undercutting prices. In this case, it is important to collect as much data and information as possible to respond to the situation appropriately through new strategies.

Complex Situations have several interconnected and interdependent aspects which have a clear relationship. In these situations, there is partial information available but because everything is interlinked, it is a challenge to process the information in a way that reliably predicts the future. The approach is to reduce the number of linkages, or at least to make them clearer, so the complexity of the situation or task is easily understood and managed. An example of a complex situation is when implementing a process change affects all departments in an organization. In such a circumstance, everything is interconnected and it can be hard to predict how this change will impact everyone and to prepare for it. The key here is to make the change as simple as possible and to assess the impact it makes on every aspect of the organization before implementing the change.

Ambiguous Situations are situations which have relationships that are completely unknown and ambiguous; there appears to be no rhyme or reason. The phrase that comes to mind in these situations is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” In such ambiguity, leaders need to learn from mistakes, hypotheses, and test rounds so it is important to experiment in order to gain information. An example of an ambiguous situation is when you are launching a new product or starting a new business. There are a lot of unknowns in these circumstances so making hypotheses and learning from mistakes is essential for leaders’ success.

In order to lead in a VUCA world, leaders need to analyze these four situation types to confirm which one they are currently leading in. Next is to find the right approach in order to lead people, a department, or an organization through the volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous situation. Knowing is half the answer, so the next time you find yourself in a VUCA situation, start by not only analyzing the situation and possible solutions, but also by analyzing your own reaction to each of the four situations. Being able to understand and control your own reaction will increase your leadership skills in all VUCA and non-VUCA worlds.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

History of Generations: Baby Boomers

One of most well-known names of generations, besides perhaps Millennials, are the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers generation is currently the largest generation. Of all the generations, they cover the largest span of time (those born from 1946 to 1964). In large parts of the world, there was a big surge in births after the Second World War. That war had a significant influence on their values, perceptions, attitude, and approach to work.

One of the major aspects that make Baby Boomers stand out from previous generations is that this was really the first generation in which women started to work outside the home in large numbers, at least in the Western Hemisphere. This has a major influence on the home and work environment. In the United States, the children of Baby Boomers often had a latchkey around their neck so that they could go home after school without their parents being there.

Baby Boomers played a large role in shaping today’s society; they used music as a political tool, they increased focus environmental conservation, they were involved with the civil rights and women’s rights movements, and they are politically informed and outspoken. It is also the first generation in which both divorce and homosexuality became accepted. Overall, this generation is known for optimism, adaptability, having a strong work ethic, and being team-oriented.

Even though technology did not become part of daily life until Generation X, Baby Boomers witnessed enormous technological milestones, such as the first orbit around earth, landing a man on the moon, and the creation of the first nuclear power plant. All these events set the stage for later advances, and Baby Boomers are typically interested in learning how to use technology, although it does not come as natural to them as future generations. They also have tend to work longer and retire later in age, mainly because they link their self-worth to their job. In other words, their work ethic becomes their “worth ethic.” Knowing this when working with them is important, as they appreciate recognition in forms of awards, title changes, and public acknowledgement for their contributions.

Because this generation spans such a long time (and because some Boomers had children later in life due to second and third marriages), Baby Boomers are parents to both Generation X and Generation Y.  There is a lot to learn from this generation, so next time you work with one ask for some of their insights and understanding. This generation makes great mentors, especially because they are likely to have children of mentee age.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

 


 

Here is an interesting fact: there are two sub-sets of Baby Boomers. The first ones are the “Save-The-World Revolutionaries” of the ’60s and ’70s. The second set of Boomers are the career climbers, the yuppies, of the ’70s/’80s. The most profound characteristic of a Baby Boomer is their work ethic. They identify with their job, profession, or their career. So much so, that this generation has remained in the workforce beyond the age of 70.

In a lot of ways, I’m the typical Baby Boomer woman. I married the first time just before I was 20 years old. Divorced in my early 30’s and moved forward in my career because that’s what the “Boomer Women” did. They worked inside and outside of the home.

As a laboratory professional that left the bench many decades ago, and now working in the field of Organizational Leadership and Development, I am approaching the age of 70. I’m starting to realize my retirement day is closer than I’d like.    Like others of my generation, this concerns me because I am defined by my career! The thought of not working left me searching for my identity so much that I started seeing a therapist last year. I was, and am fortunate to work for an incredible organization that doesn’t judge one by their age. They look at the skills and competencies one brings to the table. I’m consciously working on succession planning so that my institutional knowledge remains with the organization and its people. It also helps to have two gifted professionals who wanted to learn from me and grow. Then it takes a manager like mine who supports me through this often painful process. I am blessed with that kind of support. Sometimes the work ethic equals “worth ethic” in the body, mind, and spirit of a Baby Boomer, which is something to keep in mind when working with this generation.

 

 

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-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.  

Learning Organizations and Systems Thinking

For organizations to grow and sustain themselves, it is essential that they take a learning stance. What is a “learning stance,” you ask? Well, learning organizations: encourage new ways of thinking and doing business, focus on employee learning, and build the organizational capacity. These companies focus on learning about the organizational systems within a business, such as interconnected actions and patterns of behavior. However, only understanding the systems themselves are not enough. Systems thinking requires the creation of a shared vision within and between teams, because teams are the core learning units in organizations. Leaders cannot lead and learn without a deep understanding of these systems and the interconnectedness of them.

Therefore, it’s important to understand the concept of systems, as people are influenced by their environment. Open systems have a continuous outflow and inflow and maintain a steady state (not to be confused with a state of equilibrium) as long as the system is alive. Closed systems only interact with themselves; there is no outside influence and all information is only shared within the system. An example of a closed system in an organization is intranet; this system is only accessible to employees and the information is not shared outside of the intranet system. An example of an open system is an HR department, which is constantly influenced by governmental policies, organizational changes, personal issues, and internal ideas and suggestions. Another example of an open system is the medical laboratory, where samples are moved between multiple people and specialties within a system. A chemistry analyzer that tests cholesterol levels might be a closed system in and of itself, but in order for it to be effective (namely, diagnosing a patient) it needs to be open because a phlebotomist collects the specimen, a laboratory professional inspects the specimen and releases the results to the clinician, who then communicates the results to the patient, who then makes adjustments to their diet (which creates a whole additional open system). It is clear from this example how intricate open systems are and how they are all connected to other aspects and possibly other systems.

In order to create an effective organizational culture, leaders need to see people and events as systems. There are twelve key systems, namely: role description, selection to role, task review, performance planning and review, performance evaluation, salary admin, career assessment, career development, succession planning, discipline, and fair treatment. When implementing a new process, structure, or project it is important to consider the impact on all these systems to check if you need to take them into account. A change in one of these key systems can have a tremendous impact. For example, having the wrong job title can not only be demotivating it can also be detrimental to productivity and outside communication.

It is also important to note that small changes in systems can become catastrophic, especially over a longer period of time. Errors and conflicts that seem inconsequential can indeed be the reason why companies fail. Such critical points often become clear in hindsight, because the impact of these points was overlooked. However, using a systems thinking approach can bring these critical points to the surface before the results are catastrophic. Systems thinking allows organizations to locate these seemingly random events, because it focuses on the underlying structures and actions that create the conditions for certain events. These events have impacts in the long-term and it allows leaders to understand and prepare for them before their negative impact occurs.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

History of Generations: Traditionalists

Traditionalists make up the smallest percentage involved in the current workforce, but they are the organizational historians as they know and remember the organization’s past and founding goals. Traditionalists are typically born between 1927 and 1945 and grew up during the Great Depression, which was from 1933 to 1938. After that, the second World War started and the U.S.A got involved after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

These years had a significant effect on this generation. Traditionalists are known to work collaboratively, know how to do more with less, and are task-oriented. They typically have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, which was fueled by the historical events in their childhood and early adulthood. They have a strong sense of patriotism and respect for authority figures.

This generation is also one of the first major innovators; they created space travel, vaccination programs, and the foundation for modern-day technological innovations. They were the driving force of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and were also the ones that started moving to suburbs. Currently, the are serving on many Board of Directors, as Presidents of organizations or as executive leaders. They have generally moved up in the hierarchy of organizations that they have spent years working for. They are loyal employees who require little feedback from their managers.

Because this is the era of pre-feminism women, the majority of women raised children and only had a job before marriage as teachers, nurses, or secretaries. This generation is self-disciplined, cautious, and self-sacrificing.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.


 

This generation was born before 1945 and is the oldest generation in the American culture. However, not all of those born before 1945 are alike.  They either fought in WWII or were children through those war years.  The Traditionalist generation are really the first strong innovators and if they are still working they act as the historians of the organization because they have been there for a long time. They often serve on Board of Directors and are Presidents because of their organizational knowledge and expertise. They are typically very disciplined, consistent in their behavior and opinions, and are known for their loyalty.

The majority of Traditionalists are retirees and are the largest lobbyist group, which is the AARP.  If your parents or grandparents were of the Traditionalist Generation, you might have experienced a “waste not, want not” attitude with strong family values, conformity, and team players.

The Traditionalists are often referred to as the “Silent Generation.” This term came from the fact that during this era, the children were often expected to be seen and not heard.

As I pondered this generational topic, I found myself searching for an example of an “Active Working Traditionalist” that I could talk about because they might not have yet retired!  To my surprise I found myself thinking about my Uncle Tom.  This man has taken care of me and his family of five children with my Aunt Pat my whole life. He is a strong family man and then realized he is still working! Uncle Tom (he prefers to remain nameless) turned 83 year’s old this past April 16th.  He is still the principle owner of his own CPA firm and worked those long and hard CPA hours during this 2018 tax season.  As I mentioned early in this blog, all Traditionalists are not alike, and Uncle Tom never expected children to be “silent.”  He valued their opinions, and my Aunt Pat was both a stay home mom and a partner in their CPA firm.

Uncle Tom values the old-time morals of family first, safety, conservatism, patience and financial security.  I encourage you to look around for your Traditionalist at home, or maybe even in the workplace.  Let’s appreciate our Traditionalists while we still have the opportunity to learn from them!

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-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.  

Ethical Leadership

Ethical decisions are a part of everyday life, but they are even more prominent when leading a team, a company or an entire organization. Ethics are essential for effective leadership, and leaders are responsible for creating ethical organizations.  Because people make decisions multiple times a day, ensuring that every decision is ethical is an essential skill, especially for leaders. Ethical decisions are often based on intuition without a logical explanation for why a certain solution was chosen. However, to increase the ethics of a situation, logic needs to be applied to the decision-making process.  Logical analysis of a situation creates a deeper understanding of the underlying issues and so improves outcomes. As ethical leaders it is our duty to lead employees and the company towards the best possible outcomes.

There are many logical approaches to ethics and multiple approaches can be used simultaneously to arrive at the best ethical answer. Some analytical approaches to ethics include:

The Utilitarian Approach

This approach relies on the concept that the best ethical decision has the most beneficial consequences for the largest group of people. The four steps of a utilitarian analysis include defining the ethical challenge, identifying those affected by the decision, determine the positive and negative consequences of the decision, and weigh the differences between those consequences.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Kant approaches ethical dilemmas based on the belief that people should always be the main focus and never be treated as a means. Kant recommends basing your ethical decision on one simple question: “Would I want everyone else to make the decision I did?” If the answer is no, then it is not the right decision. If the answer is yes, Kant argues that the analysis and decision are correct.

Rawls’ Justice as Fairness

This concept is centered on two principles based in theories of fairness and justice. First, everyone has an equal right to basic liberties, and second, inequalities, both social and economic, have two conditions: 1) everyone has an equal opportunity to qualify for job, and 2) priority should be given to meeting the needs of the less fortunate.

Pragmastism

This approach uses pragmatism as an ethical decision making tool. The process of using the scientific method allows people to come up with ethical solutions, because the hypotheses are tested through dramatic rehearsal. One should come up with a solution to an ethical dilemma and then test it, hypothetically, to see if the solution and its consequences were indeed ethical. What sets this approach apart is the use of emotion and feeling as indicators of unethical decisions.

Altruism

This method to ethical dilemmas focuses on what is best for others and not what is best for oneself.  People helping one another and witnessing leaders make sacrifices to the benefit of their employees or customers has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the staff.

Ethical decisions have a profound impact on others, even when they are not directly involved or affected by the decision. Good character is created when making ethical decisions and that character disintegrates when unethical decisions are made. Everyone has an influence on other people, therefore it is our obligation to others and the world to not only keep our ethical character intact, but to increase it so that it can withstand the tests of our time while encouraging others to do the same.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.