ASCLS Today Volume 34, Number 8

ASCLSToday Masthead 680

Volume 34, Number 8


Maddie Josephs, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS President

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the word, virtual, likely had a different connotation to many. I thought of virtual in the context of virtual reality—something that does not physically exist but occurs because of some software program to provide the same experience. Since the middle of March 2020, the term virtual has become an integral part of our vocabulary, as meetings, classes, social events, etc., have had to become virtual and are carried out over a network instead of in person. Of course, medical laboratory professionals don’t have the luxury of working from home, and most healthcare professionals don’t either. The major exception being primary care physicians who hold telemedicine appointments with their patients for continuation of care, keeping the health and safety of their patients in mind.

Most likely, one of the saddest aspects of this virtual communication occurred in intensive care units all over the world, as patients close to death had to say a virtual “goodbye” to their loved ones over phones and iPads. I cannot think of anything more tragic than this, but I suppose it is better than not being able say a last, “I love you,” to a parent, spouse, or sibling. No one could have ever imagined that this would become such a tragic and common occurrence.

On a personal note, I have been able to continue to work as an educator, lecturing online and holding virtual labs for students in my MLT program. While not ideal, we have at least had the opportunity to continue instruction in as seamless a manner as possible. My ASCLS colleagues have happily shared resources with other educators, and these resources have proved to be invaluable. Many thanks to all those educators who were so generous.

Online classes or distance learning is not for every student, as learning styles can differ so vastly between students. And unfortunately, many students struggle with this type of learning. To mitigate attrition in our educational programs, it is important to consistently remind students that, if they are having difficulty with this type of instruction, they need to reach out to faculty for help to ensure a good educational experience. Giving guidance on how to be present remotely, as difficult as that can be, is fundamental to online learning.

Working from home is certainly not a new concept to some people. Many professionals have done so for years and have found a good work-life balance. However, so many challenges have arisen for professionals working from home for the first time. Among the most common are technical issues, which may even prevent some people from getting their work done. The good news is that even the most technically challenged person has become somewhat of an expert holding meetings, classes, and webinars over platforms like Zoom, WebEx, Collaborate, and many others.

These events are not without their humorous moments. Statements like, “You’re muted,” or, “If you turn your camera off, it might help with the connection,” or, “If you are not muted, please do so at this time,” are statements we hardly ever uttered before this pandemic began. Ending and leaving a meeting can sound funny to anyone who may be listening from the next room. A fun and new challenge is to find an interesting virtual background, as is knowing when to talk when no one else is so as not to interrupt. And sometimes, the silence can be deafening when waiting for answers to questions. For some reason, this silence isn’t as pronounced during in-person meetings.

Distractions are another challenge for the employee working virtually. Even if you are alone at home, it can be difficult ignoring the pile of laundry that needs to be done, the lawn that needs to be mowed, and countless other chores that you do not give a second thought if you are at work. When you are not alone, children needing attention and barking dogs are some common issues that we all deal with. My students have come to know when my mail is delivered, usually around the same time every day, as my dog’s barking informs them as such. Children popping in on the screen happens all the time. Again, this very frequently leads to some humorous moments, and I have had the opportunity to “meet” many of my student’s family members, whether intentional or not. I believe it is important to try and imagine the students’ learning environment, which I have no control over, and consider this when teaching.

One major downfall of working from home is the fusion of work and home life. Since I walk by my home office countless times a day, it is very easy to sit at my desk to answer just one more email. There have been many 12- to 14-hour workdays that just wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the office set-up that I have now. Maintaining a good work-life balance to prevent burnout has never been more important than it is now. It is just so easy to fall into a bad pattern if you are not used to it.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of working and holding meetings virtually is the disconnect we feel because we are not face-to-face with our colleagues and friends. We can’t ignore that we all, including students, can have some difficulty remaining positive in the face of these turbulent times. Mental health issues and the lack of that routine human contact with people other than family members and roommates, has led to an increase in the incidence of depression. Helping our colleagues, friends, and family members find the balance between productivity and well-being was never more vital than it is now.

Fears and vulnerabilities are real and need to be validated and addressed. For most of my students, success in an academically rigorous program, which is virtual for the first time, is just one challenge they deal with now. Job insecurity, children also learning online, spouses now working from home, and caring for elderly parents all add up to the stressors they face. Maintaining open lines of communication and listening actively is essential to their success and well-being.

There are many social events that can help. A Zoom gathering, like a happy hour, while not the same as being with friends in a social or work environment, can be fun. You don’t have to talk about work or school but can just share a funny story or discuss how you might be feeling that day. I am confident that one day soon, when we will be able to be together in person at work or in a social gathering, it will be a celebration like no other.

Maddie Josephs is Associate Professor/Director of CLT and HT Programs at the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln, Rhode Island.


Cheyenne Reyes, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Vice Chair

Realizing you are in a momentous time in history brings forth a unique sense of self-awareness. Like many others, 2020 has made me question nearly every aspect of my life. Am I actually more extroverted than I realized? My time with people means a lot more to me than I thought it did. Am I taking a stand for the right reasons? How long have I been this ill-informed? Does this career choice really fit me? Does everyone know how to do a virtual background but me?!

The pandemic brought on a thick fog of days blurring together, full of CDC updates, case numbers, ever-changing regulations, workflow readjustments, and the like. After so many months of performing the same tests on the same specimens, it can grow difficult to keep your passion for the laboratory alive. There were days of anger for the unappreciation, days of sadness for our patients, days of gratitude for the people you work with, and days of empowerment to make a difference. Through that rollercoaster, I noticed fundamental differences in how laboratory staff viewed these stressors. Within these differences, I realized that my reactions to many of the circumstances were vastly different in comparison.

I often found myself confused about why I questioned the way situations were handled and wanted to speak out. Most of my coworkers were content just going with the flow. It reminded me of a poll that I saw in one of the MLS groups on Facebook, asking what Enneagram type all the laboratory professionals in that group were. I knew what type I was but had not looked much further into the personality types past my initial evaluation that a friend asked me to do out of curiosity. I was surprised to see that I was one of the few type 8s out of hundreds of laboratorians who answered. The most common was type 5, also known as, “The Investigator.”

“Type 8s make great patient advocates and can be a voice for what laboratory professionals really want in situations in which others may not feel comfortable.”

With a title such as “The Investigator,” there’s no wonder why it would be the most common personality type among laboratory professionals, who are commonly referred to as the detectives of healthcare. Type 5s crave knowledge and understanding. The essential problem-solving of laboratory work meets their basic need to learn and understand. In general, they need to feel competent in everything they do, and they strengthen their self-confidence by closing off and learning more information about a subject.

The type 8 personality, however, is commonly known as “The Challenger.” This personality type has a very strong sense of justice. There is a need to be in control of their environment and to be self-reliant. Type 8s desire to leave their mark on the world and aren’t afraid to take the initiative to get things done. We are known for our can-do attitude.

In my research of the Enneagram types, through various platforms, including social media, I realized why I seem to struggle harder to find happiness in the day-to-day work of this profession. The truth-seeking nature of the job does not necessarily fulfill what is considered my “basic desire” to have agency over my life and future. However, my passion for science and understanding of the importance of the laboratory holds me here. The pandemic has forced me to identify the aspects of my professional life that inspire me. Even though I do not always fit in well with others in the lab, I must recognize the need for strong personality types that will take a stand when it is needed.

Type 8s make great patient advocates and can be a voice for what laboratory professionals really want in situations in which others may not feel comfortable. I have found the key for me is to avoid stagnation and to stay involved on a larger scale. Without ASCLS, I am not sure I would still be a proud medical laboratory scientist. It has empowered me to take a stand for our profession when I know it’s needed, even if there is no one else to stand with me. The organization reminds me why people of all different personality types—whether it be Enneagrams 1 through 9 or any Myers Briggs combination—are vital to this profession. We all have something different to contribute. We each just need to search for the parts that keep the fire alive.

Cheyenne Reyes is a travel scientist, currently working in Chicago.


Phyllis Ingham, EdD, MLS(ASCP)CM, AHI(AMT), ASCLS-Georgia President

Photo credit: Paul Bulai, Unsplash

Coping with life as an educator during a global pandemic has reminded me of an expression, “iron sharpens iron.” “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17). Reflecting on that expression, I envision two iron rods rubbing together. As friction is created, so is the heat, and eventually a spark, then a flame, which if fanned, is not able to be contained. In my mind, I see this as exactly what happened to our higher education system almost overnight.

Our entire educational faculty roles were suddenly upended as a novel virus swiftly changed our daily lives and teaching delivery methods. We found ourselves anxiously asking questions such as: How am I able to teach my courses totally online? How can I use lab simulations for my students to develop competency-based skill sets? How can I make sure students are engaged and learning using the online platform? What are the current best practices being used in online education?

Moving from a face-to-face classroom to online pedagogy, while wondering if we could really make this work and enable our students to continue to learn in the middle of such a vast change in approach from our current teaching methodologies, certainly made us all feel as if we were plunged directly into the heat of the flame. But, from that flame an even greater spark did arise. Communities of educators from all across our nation immediately began to hold webinars and podcasts. As these connected communities grew immensely in number, best practices were shared by online experts in the various disciplines and we went to work. As a result of the “sharpening of iron,” we made it through the toughest of times because of our connections as humans as we navigated the unknowns together.

“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision, and change.”
-Richard Branson

Lessons Learned: Start with the End

Honestly, as in all things in life, what works for some will not work for others, so keep that in mind as you begin to develop and adjust your online learning plans.

The starting place must, of course, be to develop engaging online content. For this first step you should take a look at Backward Design. Suppose for a moment you are going on a short trip. What is the first thing you do? For most of us, it would be to decide where we are going, or the destination. Then we make all the decisions as to our route to take, if we must stop overnight along the way, or what type of cuisine we would enjoy experiencing on our trip.
In preparing course content, we must take that same approach. We should first take a look at where we want to end. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Where do we want to go? (What are the goals for the course?)
  2. How will we know if we have arrived? (How do we measure student achievement?)
  3. What will we need to help us get there? (What will students need to be successful?)

Two books I highly recommend for learning more about backward design are Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins, and Jay McTighe and Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses.

Making the Plan: Best Practice Tips

Next, you must learn and employ strategies which will help students learn in the online classroom. Pause for a moment and think about how you are able to get students to actively guide their own learning experience.

Let’s take a closer look at some strategies that experts say will work for your online courses:

  • As you develop course modules or lesson folders, create and personalize instructor content videos.
  • Humor does increase student interest (utilize memes, gifs, personal stories, catchy music, memorable quotes, or interesting videos).
  • Provide task lists for each module or lesson folder.
  • Schedule synchronous Office Hours, Pop-in Sessions, or Buddy Chats. Students need to know when you are available to them.
  • Create short instructor greeting videos for each module. Students need to see your face; human connection is extremely important.
  • Don’t create too many discussion boards. This causes frustration and stress for students.
  • Keep in touch with your students—send out short surveys and use small group conferencing (video conferencing tools).
  • Become the Zoom (or WebEx, etc.) expert! (This will take a lot of practice.)
  • Welcome students to class by name as they enter the virtual classroom. Direct dialogue leads to a positive rapport.
  • Begin class by asking, “How are you all doing?”
  • Before you begin the course work, talk about something personal, share a story.
  • When you use virtual sessions, try to allow in your course both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities and always record your sessions for students to re-watch, pause, take notes, etc.
  • Avoid student anxiety by allowing students to upload a profile photo so they are present via microphone for participation; video participation has been associated with increased anxiety. I personally like to see my students smiling faces but I let them know ahead of time which virtual sessions I expect them to be “live” present or when profile picture present is acceptable (we call those sessions your PJ Days).
  • Utilize virtual breakout rooms for interactive quizzes and student assessments.
  • Add in mindful moments—take short brain breaks to prevent student stress overload.
  • Keep it real!
End of Course Revelations

Once the course is over, as you know, the real work begins. Course evaluations are important. We must listen to student feedback, but you must now reflect on the course content, structure, and design, and ask yourself, “Did we reach our destination?” Sometimes that reflective evaluation may be answered with a NO. What’s next? Make changes! Keep doing what seemed to work and take out what did not work. And in the end, we move forward once again continuing to share our spark and create the flame of success.

  • Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., Dipietro, M., Lovertt, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010) How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Blake, C. (2017, November 13). How online teachers can improve discussion boards [Blog Post].
  • Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad, R. (2016) The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Darby, F., & Lang, J. (2019) Small Teaching Online. San Francisco: Josey Bass.
  • Fink, L.D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.
  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Development.

Phyllis Ingham is Clinical Laboratory Technology Program Director/Chair at West Georgia Technical College in Waco, Georgia.



Author Scott Aikey invested in the physical hardware necessary to create a home office space that is defined and conducive to working remotely.

On March 12, 2020, I received notice that I should pack up what I would need to work from home. Little did I know at the time that the move would be essentially permanent. First, let me say that the many people who are working on the frontlines of this pandemic, including the thousands of medical laboratory scientists, have my undying gratitude. I am fortunate to be able to do my job from home, and I am thankful every day. With that said, the adjustment to working from home was not easy.

Prior to the pandemic, I had worked from home occasionally, but that usually meant sitting at my kitchen table hunched over my small laptop on a kitchen chair that was not meant to be sat in for eight hours straight. Working from home on a more permanent basis truly requires a change in thinking and an investment in not only physical gear, but also an investment in yourself.

The first few weeks of the pandemic were very busy, and an all-hands-on-deck approach was the mantra of the time. You worked as long as it took to get the job done. On many days, the hours were long, much longer than a typical day at work. But as the emergency of the pandemic turned into the reality of the new normal, it became important to be able to create a sense of normalcy in the working environment that would enable one to be efficient, as well as self-preserving, for the long haul. Once it became apparent that neither the pandemic, nor the new working environment, was going away anytime soon, planning for the long-term became the focus.

Defined Workspace

First, it was essential to create a working environment or office space that was defined and conducive to working remotely. For me, that meant investing in the physical hardware that would enable that goal. A new desk was purchased because the old one was only meant for the occasional surfing of the internet or paying an online bill, and not for sitting at all day. Throughout the month of April, additional monitors, a new webcam, wireless keyboard and mouse, and a hub to connect it altogether were also purchased. Specific attention was paid to what was in the background when I turned on the webcam, as most meetings were converted to video meetings. Finally, I felt I had a workspace wherein I could be productive.

The money spent to invest in this physical hardware was not cheap, but if you compared the one-time dollars spent against the potential money saved from not driving to work daily, the cost would certainly be recovered in a short period of time.

“Working from home on a more permanent basis truly requires a change in thinking and an investment in not only physical gear, but also an investment in yourself.”

Focus on Personal Life

Now that the investment was made in the physical hardware, it was time to make appropriate investments on the personal side. There are many advantages to working from home, including saving money on gasoline and parking; the amount of time traveling to and from work is also a savings. Initially, it was common to start working early (about the same time that I would have left the house to drive to work) and end later (about the same time I would have arrived home from work). That led to a perception of increased productivity, but in fact, I was just working more hours. In addition, the notion that I was home (and the pandemic forced most extra-curricular activities to be canceled) meant that I could be available at any hour of the day or night.

The concept of work-life balance is important for everyone, whether you work from home or not. The ability to disconnect from work, when not working, is essential to one’s personal well-being. It gives one the ability to recharge, focus on leisure activities, and connect with family and friends. Our workplace spent a lot of time driving home the concept of disconnecting from work when not working prior to the pandemic. Post-pandemic employee surveys, however, suggested that all of that work was negated with the pandemic. Specific attention was placed on reinforcing the goal and the need to have a good work-life balance even when working remotely.

So, what does that look like from a practical standpoint? Songsangvos & Iamamporn (2020) discuss several things that you can do to achieve a similar work-life balance when working remotely as compared to when working onsite. In addition to setting up your office that is conducive to working efficiently, having that office be in a separate room or part of the house can be helpful. One should get up in the morning and prepare as if you are going to drive to work, including dressing as if you would be in the office. Not only does this prepare the mind to be ready for work, but it also shows your team that you are prepared for work via your appearance on video meetings. Lastly, at the end of the day, it is equally as important that you turn off your computer, leave the room, and act as if your day is done. For me, that meant starting and stopping my day at a certain time, and changing my clothes from my work clothes to my home clothes.

Almost seven months into this pandemic, I have now adjusted to the new normal. I look forward to potentially going into work sometime in the future maybe one day a week or so. But until then, I know that I have taken all the steps I can to invest in my personal well-being, as well as my physical space, to be productive and happy while still working from home.


Songsangyos, P., & Iamamporn, S. (2020). Remote Working with Work-life Balance. International Journal of Applied Computer Technology and Information Systems, 9(2).

Scott Aikey is Senior Director, Core Clinical Applications, at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.


Suzy Jane Gabelmann

Author Suzy Jane Gabelmann and her two children all attend separate virtual classes together in their kitchen.

Most mornings, my kids and I sit tucked away at our kitchen table, in a makeshift classroom. Pictures of sight words and classroom art projects hang on the wall, among microbiology flow charts and post-it notes of chemistry normal values. A white board with the day’s schedule sits forgotten against the back door, my final attempt to bring some normalcy to my kids’ lives. I log into my virtual classroom, and while I wait for the lecture to begin, I make breakfast. Zoom meetings for my kids’ classes start shortly after my lectures, and I summon them over, hoping that they at least brushed their hair. Then we sit, the three of us, listening and learning.

I started the Medical Laboratory Technician Program at Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) a year ago, and never could I have imagined this is how my academic journey would pan out. As a mom of a seven- and five-year-old, going to school full time and working two jobs, finding balance has always been tricky. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and life only became crazier. Distance learning has brought both challenge and reward to my life and taught me a great deal about myself.

A New Way of Learning

It is the new normal, and to say distance learning is an adjustment would be an understatement. I feel this is especially true for those of us pursuing a career in the medical field. As developing laboratory professionals, it is imperative that we get as much training in the student lab as possible. When shutdowns began last March, my classmates and I had to adapt to an entirely new way of learning. We were halfway through the semester, went on spring break, and never went back to campus. Within two weeks we were participating in full time distance learning for lectures and labs. It was surreal.

I remember the first live lecture I logged into, watching the names of every single one of my classmates pop up. We all made it. I was relieved and comforted in that little bit of familiarity. Week after week, we showed up, cheering each other on. No one gave up. Last semester, we learned how to interpret a TSI slant and when to perform a catalase test. We learned about blood components, their preparation, and what happens during a massive transfusion protocol. We watched a microscopic examination of urine, and we will never forget that ammonium biurate crystals look like horned apples. Through interactive lectures we were able to stay connected, ask questions, and learn the material we needed to master. Anyone can read a book or Google information. But it is not the same as having a network of professors and fellow students who are all available to help and support each other.

“Each day gets a little easier, as we learn to navigate. Virtual instruction has brought my classmates and me closer, and we continue to motivate and check in on each other.”

Of course, worry and doubt set in. For many weeks, it was unknown whether we would be able to attend our clinical rotation over the summer. Would we be returning to on-campus labs in the fall? How could I possibly make it through another rigorous semester, doing solely distance learning? How would I juggle everything in my life, with a looming global crisis? Despite the doubts I had about myself, I never once felt I was not receiving the education I intended to get. The faculty and staff of the MLT program have worked miracles. Our professors had to learn how to teach us in a completely different way, all within two weeks. I can only imagine the sheer amount of effort and planning it took to present material to my classmates and me in a concise yet thorough manner. It is clear that teaching the future medical laboratory technicians is not just a job, it is a passion. I am so grateful for all that our professors do, now more than ever. I feel this passion not only from my professors, but from my fellow students as well. Without it, distance learning would never have been successful.

Survival Mode and a Whole Lot of Drive

It has not been easy. In fact, distance learning has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my college years. Frankly, my home environment is not the most conducive learning space. I have two little people who constantly need me, and who simply do not understand why I am physically home, but not in a present state of mind. That has been the most difficult obstacle for me to overcome both as a parent and a student. On-campus lectures and labs were my designated time to be “just a student.” I could focus solely on school. Remote learning has required me to be a parent, student, and homeschool instructor all at the same time. Somehow, I can juggle it all. I think it takes a little bit of survival mode, and a whole lot of drive.

I have had to listen to lectures on my drive to and from school or work, my only moments of solitude. If I put the volume on my phone down extremely low, I can listen to lesson recordings while I put my kids to bed, and the noise will not wake them. I have had to leave live meetings to make sure my son is writing the number four correctly, and to help my daughter sound out a word. But life has a funny way of working out. Each day gets a little easier, as we learn to navigate. Virtual instruction has brought my classmates and me closer, and we continue to motivate and check in on each other. After some uncertainty about attending clinical rotations due to restrictions, we were all able to go. I had the most amazing time those four weeks. Our student labs are back on campus, allowing us ample time to learn techniques and assays. Balance is slowly forming.

A few weeks ago, I rushed home from a student lab, to be on time for my microbiology lecture. I was stressed, tired, and still had not printed the PowerPoints needed for that lesson. As I listened to the material being presented in our virtual classroom, I noticed my daughter rummaging through the playroom. Another mess, I assumed. The lecture wrapped up and my daughter approached me, clutching something across her chest. It was her toy microscope that she had received for Christmas. “Mama, I want to do science just like you. Can we look at slides together?” I had not realized that she was listening to the lectures for the past few months. I am aware now of the positive impact distance learning has had. That afternoon I paused for the first time in a long time, and we looked at slides under her scope.

The educational experience is vastly different for all of us now. For me, it means trying to comprehend the coagulation cascade, while my son and 20 other kindergarteners belt out the ABCs two feet away. Chaos, yes. But this is my journey, and I would not have it any other way.

Suzy Jane Gabelmann is a student in the MLT Program at the Community College of Rhode Island.