Maria Rodriguez, ASCLS Student Forum Chair
If I received a dime every time I needed to explain what Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) is, I would have more money than Bill Gates. The first 100 times that people asked me I was more than happy to answer, but there came a point where it was exhausting to have to explain my career choice to family, friends, and acquaintances. “My brothers do not have to explain themselves,” I said to my dad when he got mad at me for rolling my eyes at one of my relatives who was asking, for the 11th time, why my career is important. “Of course David and Daniel do not have to explain themselves. They are going to be Engineers!” he replied. Four years into my career and my family still does not understand what I do. My dad always tells people, “She is going to be like the lady on the TV show ‘Bones.’” It is like Elizabeth LeFors, former Student Forum Secretary, explained in her ASCLS Today article “Yes, We Matter.” “It is sad how little people know about our profession.” Thus, it is imperative that we, the MLS professionals of the future, take a stand and scream to the world why we matter.
I understand it is hard to be a spokesperson of an underappreciated profession by yourself. However, you are not alone. The Student Forum and ASCLS provide opportunities for future and current MLS professionals to come together and share ideas to increase the knowledge for the public. Together we fight for our profession. Being part of ASCLS allows you to create strong connections with people from around the nation. You get to learn more about the profession and make friends for life. We are the people who understand you and share your passion for MLS. There are several ways to promote our profession, and today I want to talk about one of those ways.
In the past year, the program director and I got together and decided that it was time to create the first MLS Club at Montana State University, the only university that offers an MLS program in Montana. The thought of establishing a new club may sound tedious and scary. The first thought that came to mind was, “Are people going to care and join our new organization?” Admittedly, I was hesitant at first. I was not sure if we could overcome so many obstacles. Nevertheless, we knew that establishing a club was the best way to advertise medical laboratory sciences on a campus where agricultural science and engineering take all the attention.
To create an organization, the first thing you should do is find support from the faculty in your department. Professors usually love getting involved to help students. Start with your program director; he or she can direct you toward success. After you find a professor that supports your idea, make an appointment with the office that oversees student organizations on your campus. They provide you with guidelines to follow to be recognized as an official club on your university campus. Here at Montana State University, we needed ten signatures and an advisor that works full-time on campus. Finding ten signatures was easy, but keeping people engaged was a challenge. College students do not think they have time to get involved in activities other than academics. It is disappointing when only a few people come to events you spent weeks preparing. However, everything in life takes time; you just need to keep going. Get your friends involved. Things are always better when you have friends supporting you. Public relations are also crucial. Posters, social media, and information sessions are your keys to success.
The ASCLS Student Forum can help you in various ways. I encourage you to get in contact with the president of your state chapter. He or she can send you the contact information of the Student Forum state representative. Your Student Forum state representative can send you information about the upcoming ASCLS meetings, scholarships, events, and updates. You are encouraged to invite your student representative to help you plan some events for your club. Maybe he or she can provide a presentation on ASCLS and the profession, or maybe you would love to host a Board of Certification Jeopardy to help seniors practice for their exams.
What about a pizza party or lab Olympics? We are here to help, and we love having people involved. Also, feel free to use our social media and post your concerns. I am sure many of our members would love helping you out. Attend your state meeting! Your club can plan a field trip to attend the spring meeting in your state and network with other students and professionals.
It might take time, but it is worth it. Creating a club will not only help the students in your program to know more about each other and the profession, but it will also allow you to build a united front on campus and start educating other students on the meaning and importance behind the MLS degree. You and your peers will become spokespeople for our profession, and your voices combined with the voices of all the members of ASCLS will reach new horizons. Our profession will receive the recognition it deserves.
I know as an undergraduate it is discouraging to have people underestimate the value of your future career, but forge onward and make the best out of your circumstances. Be the penicillium in a world of molds. Be an advocate for the profession. Let people know that medical laboratory scientists are the best-hidden secret hospitals have. I encourage you to think about it. Not many people know we are there, yet our work helps provide 70% of the data on which doctors make decisions. If that is not essential in the medical field, I don’t know what is. We are superheroes with an undercover identity, and our power is to solve puzzles. Sure, my brothers are going to be engineers, and that is cool, but you know what? I am going to be a microbiologist, immunologist, blood banker, chemist, hematologist, and phlebotomist, all at once. Saving lives one test tube at the time, and that is way cooler.