ASCLS Today Volume 34, Number 2

ASCLSToday Masthead 680

Volume 34, Number 2


Cindy Johnson, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS President

Many of you have been asked to step into a leadership role that you may not have felt qualified to take on. However, someone had confidence that you could fulfill this role, perhaps with some guidance and training. Being a leader may not be easy, and that is the reason that many continue to strive to gain the qualities of great leadership by developing their skills.

My Humble Beginning
One of the most terrifying and yet exhilarating professional decisions I have made was to apply for the general laboratory manager position at the hospital where I completed my clinical training. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a leadership position as I had recently completed my master’s degree in clinical laboratory science and wasn’t feeling confident that I had the skills to take on this new role of leading a team that included former supervisors and clinical instructors. I knew it was a risk, yet it was an excellent opportunity to utilize my expanded knowledge while advancing my career.

The first few years were challenging as we were combining the traditional chemistry and hematology departments into what was to become the “core lab.” Cross training was stressful on the team as colleagues were uncomfortable with performing tests, i.e., manual differentials or manual WBCs and platelets, that they hadn’t done for quite some time. These laboratory colleagues were the experts in either the hematology or chemistry department and now some new leader was asking them to make that paradigm shift and work in more than one department.

I was not very sympathetic to say the least. It was hard for me to understand the anxiety level displayed by staff as I had been a generalist for eight years, working primarily on the off shifts. I was used to performing testing in all the departments, including blood bank and microbiology, and could not understand what the issue was to cross train in another department. Looking back, I know that I could have benefited from some leadership development courses early on to support the team as we transitioned into the new core laboratory model.

Traits of a Good Leader
Some of the traits of a good leader include honesty and integrity. Colleagues will respect you when you acknowledge your mistakes and give appropriate credit to those who have made a difference.

Commitment and passion. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a leader who cares about what they do and enthusiastically expresses that passion by supporting those around them. These inspirational leaders have the ability to encourage people to reach great pinnacles of performance and success.

Great communication skills are essential for leaders. Clearly defining the vision and purpose for the organization will help the team understand the goals that they are trying to achieve.

These are only a handful of skills that define a good leader. With support and mentoring, one can further develop these qualities. Since those early days as a new leader, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take many courses to further expand my leadership skills. For instance, in my current organization, we are required to take a series of courses through our Education and Professional Development Department.

The New Leader Orientation to Human Resources courses include topics such as basic interviewing; giving and receiving feedback; documenting discipline; and workman’s compensation. Examples of other core courses include: Crucial Conversations (VitalSmarts); 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Leading at the Speed of Trust (FranklinCovey); and numerous courses on process improvement tools. Our health system continues to invest in their leaders as we are encouraged to take new courses as they are launched or even repeat a course that we have not taken in many years. I would encourage you to take advantage of any leadership courses that may be offered through your organization.

ASCLS Leadership Resources
ASCLS also provides resources to cultivate good leaders. The ASCLS Leadership Academy is an intense, 12-month program designed to train ASCLS members to be effective leaders that will not only benefit ASCLS and the profession, but also society as a whole. The program is designed so that the participants will understand leadership within four increasingly larger spheres of influence: self, team, profession, and public. If you have a desire to further develop your leadership talents, then you are encouraged to apply for the 2020-21 class by April 1. Apply online.

There are additional opportunities to participate in a leadership academy at the state/constituent society or regional level. Contact your ASCLS state and regional leadership for details on how you can expand your leadership skills while developing camaraderie with your fellow laboratory colleagues.

The ASCLS Leadership Development Committee
Leadership development refers to activities that improve the skills, abilities, and confidence of leaders. This committee is developing a plan for online leadership development resources for constituent societies. The modules would constitute a cohesive and customizable leadership training that could address basic leadership skills, management skills, and ASCLS generic (e.g., history) and position-specific information.

Calling all leaders! ASCLS is committed to providing resources and training for those members interested in serving in a leadership position. Please consider volunteering for a leadership role at the state/constituent society, regional level, or national level. We are all in this together as we promote and strengthen our profession.

Cindy Johnson is senior director of laboratory services at CentraCare in St. Cloud, Minnesota.


Jean Bauer, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Region V Director

Photo credit: Maciej Ciupa

Are leaders born with the ability to lead, or is leadership learned? The answer is both.

The road to becoming a leader can start in different ways. Some professionals aspire to be leaders. They have the desire and drive to want to lead, whether to oversee or improve on the current processes or to be successful at taking a whole new approach. Others “fall into” the role by necessity of the workplace or by being in the right place at the right time for advancement, and by being willing to take on the challenge.

And for some, the concept of becoming a leader can be frightening. Yet those same people are many times looked up to by their co-workers, colleagues, friends, and family. They express thoughtful opinions or act in ways that others want to follow, and they ultimately become leaders. Reluctantly they may take on the role and then search for ways to be the best they can be.

"One of the best benefits of developing and practicing leadership skills in ASCLS is that they are transferable to other parts of life. Learning how to communicate, resolve conflicts, recruit volunteers, work with others, etc., are basic skills that can be applied to work, church, and community settings.”

Regardless of the path one might take to leadership, various skills are needed to be effective. For most professionals, they acquire their competencies to lead through a variety of methods. Today, many are returning to universities to obtain an advanced degree. Others learn on the job by asking colleagues for advice, or by emulating behaviors of people they look up to as examples of the type of leader they wish to be. Many employers offer classes within the company to encourage the behavior they want projected by their leaders.

However, if one is searching for a great place to develop leadership skills outside of the workplace or formal education, look no further than ASCLS. It offers members multiple avenues to learn and prepare for leadership roles.

  • Sessions at ASCLS meetings – Local, state, and regional meetings are held throughout the year, plus many sessions are offered at the Joint Annual Meeting that focus on the soft skills, as well as the technical skills, needed in our profession. Sessions topics may include conducting meetings, communication, motivation, managing versus coaching, and many others.
  • Leadership Academy – The national ASCLS Leadership Academy provides a year-long study in leadership on such topics as management, team building, extraordinary productivity, presentation skills, networking, and many others. In addition, each participant reads two books on leadership and presents the content to their fellow classmates, practicing their newly acquired presentation skills. There are a number of state and region leadership academies as well that provide individuals with the opportunity to learn similar skills. The national Leadership Academy is now accepting applications for the 2020-21 class through April 1.
  • Mentorship Program – This is an opportunity for a mentee to be paired with a mentor of similar interests. The partnership is an ongoing interaction between them throughout the year to provide an opportunity to ask questions, provide guidance, and get feedback from someone who has a bit more experience and has been there, done that.
  • Leadership Development Committee – ASCLS has specifically directed this committee to develop readily accessible, online modules that will be available for all members who may need or want to develop a specific skill. The modules in current production include diversity, equity, and inclusion; communications; mentoring/being mentored; and professionalism.
  • Laboratory Legislative Symposium – This annual event allows participants to learn about the issues that will be brought before Congress that will impact laboratories, followed by an opportunity to visit with your legislators to educate them on the issues. It’s a unique opportunity to lead your group in the advocacy arena.

Whether one obtains the knowledge and skills in a school setting, on the job, or through a professional organization, it is only the beginning. One must practice these newly acquired skills to become proficient. ASCLS offers many opportunities to gain this experience. Becoming involved—volunteering to be on an ASCLS committee in your state or region, or offering to help plan a meeting—is a way to continually grow into a self-assured leader. As the confidence builds, perhaps the next step is taking on the role of an officer in your constituent society. ASCLS has developed tools and modules to assist our leaders, such as the ASCLS strategic plan, mentoring and developing society leaders, volunteer management, marketing and communications, among others.

One of the best benefits of developing and practicing leadership skills in ASCLS is that they are transferable to other parts of life. Learning how to communicate, resolve conflicts, recruit volunteers, work with others, etc., are basic skills that can be applied to work, church, and community settings.

Leadership development is not a one-time occurrence. Successful leaders are lifelong learners. There are always new thoughts and ideas on how to lead, what is important in leading, new ways to motivate people, how to mentor, and so on. Confident leaders will search out ways to improve their skills.

Whether one starts with an inherent belief in their abilities or needs to be encouraged to take that first step, everyone needs to develop the skills to lead others. It is a journey that begins with a belief. Along with education, training, and practice, and with the desire to be the best leader possible, a great leader will emerge.

Jean Bauer is the laboratory director at Open Cities Health Center in St Paul, Minnesota.


Jessica Lawless, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Vice Chair

Photo credit: Josef F. Stuefer 

As a graduate of Texas A&M University, which has one of the most active alumni organizations in the world, I have always understood the importance of networking. This is one of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to join—and stay active in—ASCLS. Over the last couple of years, my passion to continue my involvement has paid for itself 10-fold. You do not need to chair a committee or go to every event in the nation, but I encourage you to delve into involvement in some way. If you are receiving this newsletter, you are already a member of our Society. I encourage you to consider becoming more active.

First and foremost, seek out your state constituent society. If your state isn’t involved, look to the next state over in your same region. Your local society can help ease you into the web of involvement in ASCLS and allow you to connect with others who share your passion for the laboratory profession. You might be able to get involved with local students, helping with classroom lab setup, clinical site education, or student bowl competitions. Meeting the younger generation of laboratory scientists is a crucial part of involvement in the professional Society. You can be a mentor or resource for those new to the field, and you get to feed off of the energy and enthusiasm of the students just learning. I have enjoyed being a judge for a student bowl competition and meeting the students. It keeps some of that theoretical knowledge fresh in your mind, so you do not lose it in the everyday laboratory duties that are more practical knowledge based.

Maybe you are ready to move forward in your involvement but are a little timid to jump into national committees. Regional societies can help you broaden your involvement more slowly. You can see the nuances of gathering people from several areas together and the impact you can have when teamed up in a larger geographical area. Meet those from other states that are in a similar place as you are in the profession. Ask to be mentored as an officer or committee member. Find the richness of education and expertise you have access to by just reaching out to the next state. Regional involvement is unique and something I would recommend if you are looking for that next steppingstone to move forward in your professional career.

Next get involved on the national level. I suggest you attend the ASCLS Joint Annual Meeting. You get to meet so many wonderful people and hear talks from experts all around the country! I am in awe of the rich knowledge of those in our profession, and it inspires me to be a better laboratory scientist. I love listening to the discussions from all of the generations of laboratorians in attendance. You can join or sit in on committee meetings to see how things are accomplished. You can attend the ASCLS Board of Directors and House of Delegates meetings to understand how we operate on the national level. Most of all, you can mingle and meet others who share your views and find friends and mentors all over the country.

Why is this important? The best example I can give is my personal experiences over the last year. In April 2019, I realized life was taking me halfway across the country from Louisiana to the mountains of Idaho. I didn’t know anyone at all from that state and definitely had no idea what employment opportunities were available. I made it a mission to meet someone at the Joint Annual Meeting who could help me get acquainted with the area.

I looked up the Region VIII Community in the Connect Communities and asked for a contact. I had great success and was pointed to several contacts to look for at the Joint Annual Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I arrived at the meeting, I played a sort of “telephone game” to finally get to others from Idaho. It was amazing! I met people from Region VIII and then met officers from Idaho’s state society. I even met another ascending professional whom I have gotten to see several times already.

When it came time to find a job, I already had contacts to ask. I was looped into a local event in the community where I met even more peers from around the state. I look forward to continuing my involvement in my new home and thank everyone for being so helpful and kind.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the opportunities and brushing off the “spiderwebs” of the ASCLS network, I challenge you to start following the strands as they spiral out into a big community of like-minded and caring laboratory professionals, who can enrich you in this profession that you have chosen.

Jessica Lawless is a PRN generalist in the trauma hospital in Boise, Idaho.


Diane Valentin, MS, MT(ASCP)MB

Twice a year I am “forced” to look at the ASCLS Code of Ethics.1 Not because my boss is making me do this but because I am doing it for the sake of my students. In our freshman MLS orientation class, I introduce them to this document as a way to inform them of their ethical duties as a medical laboratory scientist, as well as to inspire passion about the field.

During this introduction I ask open-ended questions such as, “What does it mean to make an ethical decision?” One student answered, “Ethics is doing what is right.” Then we had a conversation about what “right” is and then explored the concept of rightness, stating that one person’s feeling of rightness may be different from another’s. After this exchange, I explained we can’t rely on our own personal ethics to guide us, rather we need to look at what ASCLS and other medical laboratory professional organizations put forth as guidance. So, let’s go through and highlight some pieces of the ASCLS Code of Ethics together.

“[W]e can’t rely on our own personal ethics to guide us, rather we need to look at what ASCLS and other medical laboratory professional organizations put forth as guidance.”


The Code of Ethics of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science sets forth the principles and standards by which Medical Laboratory Professionals and students admitted to professional education programs practice their profession.

As I read this preamble, I am happy and impressed to see students entering into their clinical rotations are obliged to abide by the Code of Ethics, just as their laboratory instructors and future peers are also obliged.

Duty to the Patient
The first paragraph of this section states that medical laboratory professionals provide “High quality laboratory services [that] are safe, effective, efficient, timely, equitable, and patient-centered … without regard to disease state, ethnicity, race, religion, or sexual orientation.” Does the second half of this statement sound familiar? It should, because part of it is written in the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.2 This is telling us that all patients have a civil right to have their sample treated as equally as the next patient.

The next paragraph lists three important concepts of the self-regulation of each medical laboratory professional. We must practice our “highest level of individual competence … exercise sound judgment in all aspects of laboratory services … safeguard patients from others’ incompetent or illegal practice.” These three lines inform the medical laboratory professional how to proceed with our careers by continuing to educate ourselves about and be competent in the tests we perform; to understand when to follow through with a rejection protocol or when to say “no” to unnecessary testing and the like; and to have the courage to speak out when your coworkers, in and out of the lab, are incompetent or breaking the law.

Duty to Colleagues and the Profession
This section should be the fight song of the medical laboratory profession. It is inspiring us to be true to the field, true to ourselves, and true to the work put forth. We are being requested to advance the profession by “improving and disseminating the body of knowledge”; to take pride in and protect the profession by “maintaining high standards of practice and education”; and to work in solidarity with our peers to ensure a living wage. In these statements, we are being asked to gain and maintain licensure and certification to ensure the integrity of our unique knowledge and skill sets and prohibit the less qualified from performing specimen collection and laboratory testing critical to patient health.

The last sentence in this section is something we may struggle with: “establish cooperative, honest, and respectful working relationships within the clinical laboratory and with all members of the healthcare team.” In my time as an MLS I’ve seen and, honestly but sadly, participated in in-fighting with fellow laboratorians and have felt contempt for our healthcare partners. We all have experienced these feelings and may be exhausted from time to time, which makes us behave in these ways. But medical laboratory professionals need to lift each other up and be understanding of each department’s or interdepartmental coworkers’ unique demands of their duties. We also need to be the utmost professional when interacting with our healthcare partners, to demonstrate we are knowledgeable and are necessary to their patient’s care and deserve to have a “place at the table.”

Duty to Society
Medical laboratory professionals serve a community of people—sick and healthy, young and old. We may serve our neighbors, religious leaders, teachers, lawyers, and friends. We are all really good at what we do in the laboratory and have pride in that fact. We are very comfortable at the microscope, with a pipette in hand, and changing out reagent tubing. But we also need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We need to step out of our comfort zones to assist on ASCLS committees, communicate with local and federal government, and address the needs of the general community. This does not mean you need to chair a committee on changing the U.S.Senate’s mind on a proposed healthcare ruling. But it could mean gaining a mentor to learn how to navigate your ASCLS membership. It could mean writing to your local U.S. senator, state governor, or city mayor about a healthcare issue. Having your PBT, MLT, or MLS designation behind your name will tell them you are educated in the profession and pushes your agenda that much further. It could also mean speaking about proper specimen collection to a group of LPNs at a nursing home or teaching about Sickle Cell disease to a group of middle or high schoolers.

Before I started teaching, I reached out to my daughter’s middle school science teacher about introducing the fifth through eighth graders to medical laboratory science and donning proper PPE for the assigned task. The teacher approved my activities and I spent four hours talking to four grade levels about what I do. They ate it up! About a week after this I received some great thank you cards, one which was signed, “Your Student, Jimmy.” This experience was very rewarding for both “teacher” and student alike.

Find your passion about your medical laboratory profession and spread the word. You can inform someone about the importance of laboratory medicine, serve as a volunteer either in membership or as a citizen, and, better yet, inspire someone to become a medical laboratory professional.

So let us, as medical laboratory professionals, review the Pledge to the Profession.1

As a Medical Laboratory Professional, I pledge to uphold my duty to Patients, the Profession and Society by:

  • Placing patients’ welfare above my own needs and desires.
  • Ensuring that each patient receives care that is safe, effective, efficient, timely, equitable and patient-centered.
  • Maintaining the dignity and respect for my profession.
  • Promoting the advancement of my profession.
  • Ensuring collegial relationships within the clinical laboratory and with other patient care providers.
  • Improving access to laboratory services.
  • Promoting equitable distribution of healthcare resources.
  • Complying with laws and regulations and protecting patients from others’ incompetent or illegal practice.
  • Changing conditions where necessary to advance the best interests of patients.

In summary, as medical laboratory professionals, we should all feel a sense of responsibility for the well-being of every patient. As our careers melt away from months into years, years into decades, we see thousands of patient samples, perform thousands of tests. It is easy to forget the passion we once had as a fledgling medical laboratory professional. Take a page from my book and “force” yourself to revisit the ASCLS Code of Ethics on a regular basis to help keep that passion alive.


  1. ASCLS, Code of Ethics, accessed 1/30/2020
  2. U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, accessed 1/30/2020

Diane Valentin is the interim program director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program and instructor in the Biological Sciences Department at University of Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Chloe Thompson, MLS(ASCP)CM

The symptoms of burnout range from increased cynicism and decreased ability to concentrate on our tasks at hand to disrupted sleep, headaches, and other physical symptoms.
Photo credit: Rolf Dietrich Brecher

Burnout. We all know the feeling—where work has somehow infiltrated every aspect of life, how stress is amplified, and there never seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We forget why we got into this field of healthcare and medical laboratory work in the first place and feel disconnected and demotivated. It’s not a fun place to be, and it seems to be becoming more and more prevalent throughout the laboratory.

Burnout is defined as fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity, per The symptoms of burnout range far and wide—from increased cynicism and decreased ability to concentrate on our tasks at hand to disrupted sleep, headaches, and other physical symptoms, according to an article from Mayo Clinic.1 In addition to affecting the mental, emotional, and even physical health of healthcare professionals themselves, burnout will inevitably affect those we care for: our patients.

Burnout in Healthcare
Did you know, that when you Google “burnout statistics for healthcare,” physicians and nurses are frequently mentioned or specified; however, in the first 15 pages of a Google or Google Scholar search, the laboratory is not mentioned even once? The search term “biomedical” was also included to encompass our biomedical scientist counterparts in the United Kingdom, and the term only appeared once—in the title of a presenter. Even in an article titled “Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review,”2 only statistics for nurses and physicians are provided. The conversation regarding how widespread burnout is in the collective healthcare profession umbrella has started but hasn’t yet spread to include the laboratory.

Editorial Note: At the time of publication, the American Journal of Clinical Pathology released a major study from the ASCP Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy that studies job satisfaction, burnout and wellness among more than 4,600 laboratory professional respondents. Read the study.

All of the symptoms of burnout seem intimately familiar to working in healthcare, particularly in hospital settings. Fatigue from endless paperwork, far past the standard of “if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen,” or from working extra shifts to cover for being short-staffed. Frustration from having to endlessly defend our patients to insurance companies, sample requirements to those collecting them on the floor, decision-making rationale to others. From juggling equipment calibration, quality control, and calling critical results all while the LIS is on scheduled downtime, we know that the laboratory is the silent backbone of healthcare, generating the information required for diagnoses and to determine treatment paths for doctors, nurses, and patients to embark on.

Burnout in the Laboratory
When we first arrived in this profession, most of us ran into the ever-present situation of our friends and family members not knowing our job existed, or what we do as clinical laboratory scientists. As we’ve educated those around us, most people realize that they have had an interaction with the clinical laboratory at some point in their lives, if not at many points. We know that we are an important and key part of patient care—yet it can be easy to forget this as we rarely have contact with those whose lives we impact.

According to “Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review,” burnout in physician population is caused largely in part by bureaucratic tasks and too much time at work2, and similar issues plague the laboratory as well. As the number of MT/MLS/CLS programs in the country dwindle down, laboratories consistently find themselves short staffed, with erratic hours to cover call outs or to compensate for broken or improper testing equipment.

The laboratory’s Twitter presence has grown tremendously in the past few years, and a few months ago I tweeted about burnout in the laboratory, asking why it isn’t talked about more. Twitter indeed responded. Feedback from my peers across the country suggests that some of the biggest issues in our field are lack of effective equipment, erratic and inconsistent scheduling, and lack of encouragement from our superiors. However, the thing that caused laboratory professionals to feel the most strongly burnt out and discouraged by was disrespectful attitude towards the lab—from nurses, doctors, and even patients (especially if phlebotomy is part of the responsibility list). Some have described phone calls from the floor as attacks and blame games. Feeling like you need to keep a defense up against your colleagues is one of the biggest discouragements that can be experienced in the workplace and can have you ready to walk out the door without looking back.

How Do We Handle It?
While many causes of burnout reflect the fallacies of our healthcare system, we need to do what we can to cope. Getting space from workplace stress is important in making sure that we are able to give our best to our work as well as our personal lives. While not all of us can up and take a vacation, taking time to enjoy hobbies and life outside of work is key to combating the stress and apathy from burnout.

Hearing a “thank you” or being on the receiving end of a small gesture of appreciation can lift spirits even on some of the worst workdays. I can’t pretend to have all the answers on how to solve the problem of burnout; however, I can point out patterns I notice and hope that it is addressed as more and more people recognize it to be a problem.

The biggest takeaway I can offer at this point, to both seasoned veterans and newcomers to this unique, quintessential field of healthcare: be kind. Be kind to each other, be kind to your colleagues, be kind to your supervisors. Doctors and nurses, be kind. We are all on the same team. Be kind to yourselves—remember that you are an important piece of the puzzle, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. We need to encourage and lift each other up rather than tear each other down—our field is a wonderous, amazing, and fantastic one. I hope more and more people discover that, and that we are all continuously reminded of it.


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, November 21). Know the signs of job burnout
  2. Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review. Cureus. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3681

Chloe Thompson is a medical technologist for Blood Bank of Delmarva, Inc., in Newark, Delaware.