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Saved by the Lab: Medical Laboratory Professionals Week 2023

When I started working for an LIS software company, I had never actually been in a laboratory, clinical or otherwise. Well, except for high school science which hardly counts now that I know better. When I made my way from my lofty interface support team bullpen to an actual clinical laboratory as an analyst, I learned a few things very quickly. Laboratory professionals take their work very seriously, they frequently hold the lab together with spit and duct tape, and they LOVE Medical Laboratory Professionals Week.

Laboratory professionals range from the pathologists and medical laboratory scientists at the analyzer or analysis bench to the supporting staff that keep all the gears of the lab moving such as phlebotomists, client services, point of care, informatics, and other unsung VIPs. Each one of these roles is integral to the support of patient care around the world. Having such an important role in the potential making of medical decisions, the lab professionals I have met are all proud of the work they do. They seek accuracy in reporting patient results, feel the urgency of calling critical values, and want the proper management of calls coming in from providers and clinical staff. It is said that 70% of a patient chart is medical laboratory data. And that 70% of decisions made regarding the treatment of a patient is based upon that lab data. This is why, if you have ever met lab professionals, they are typically procedure-oriented people who love to be sure they got things right.

Having been inside many laboratories, it is rare to find one with a nice view or even a single window. Labs are often labyrinths of aging work benches, uneven drawers and cabinet doors, and office chairs with seats shedding their original skin from 17 years ago. One lab I worked for found out radiology had just been renovated, so we went dumpster diving for the items that radiology threw away. Maybe a chair with no holes in the upholstery? Perhaps, a handy file cabinet? And God willing, a nice desk!? Lab budgets are notoriously tight. Running a lab takes a lot of staff and a lot of money, but the staff are typically unseen bench-dwellers who can go another year or two with that cabinet door hanging off its hinges in the eyes of the budget conscious. After all, they found a nice roll of duct tape with the radiology leftovers! Perfect to hold up that door for a while.

Given the importance of the work lab professionals do and the impact it has across patient care, we are okay with not having that renovation budget for a while. We can sit in that disintegrating office chair a bit longer. We can let our OCD run crazy with the uneven cabinets and secondhand office furniture. Because we take so much pride in what we do for a living, those things matter less. Our number one priority is patient care, and that does not care about the age of your office chair. Just let us keep the lab running safely and accurately, and we will be okay.

That brings me to memories of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. The #ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology) sponsors labs across the USA to further boost the pride we have in our professions and our visibility to people outside of the lab. Back in the day vendors would bring food to the lab break room day and night for a week. So much so, we called Lab Week, “Flab Week.” The giveaways are fewer today, but we still love to celebrate the week together. And we will take a side of training for food any day!

This year, the ASCP has themed Lab Week as “Saved by the Lab.” This theme, although calling to a past TV comedy show, is a serious message. The past 3 years have shown us how important the laboratory is. The long hours of integrating new COVID-19 instruments as they became available into LIS systems, the day after day grind of staffing issues, and the learning process we all shared helped save lives. Hearing non-lab people speak to PCR testing with some degree of understanding is impressive. We made an impact, continue to make an impact, and we should be proud.

If you know any medical laboratory professionals, please heap some praise upon them April 23-29. Lab Week celebrates all of us in this crazy path of professional life. We are all integral to the running of a laboratory and, therefore, your patient chart. We work in fast-paced, stressful conditions. And we are glad to do it.

I guarantee you know a lot of people who have been Saved by the Lab.

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