Originating in 1975, Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (MLPW) is observed on the last week of April and serves to honor hidden heroes responsible for performing scientific testing on samples and reporting results to physicians. According to Mayo Clinic, “60 to 70 percent of all decisions regarding a patient's diagnosis, treatment, hospital admission, and discharge are based on the results of the tests medical laboratory scientists perform.”
I’ve had this blog in my head for weeks now I just needed a…breadcrumb.
Okay, allow me to set the scene: Season 3 Criminal Minds, Episode 13: “Limelight.” Hotshot Agent Jill Morris tries to outsmart the Behavioral Analysis Unit due to her ego, and it almost ends badly for her. Let's keep her in mind.
Now, year one of working in my profession was about learning to be a team player. Working nights as a generalist Medical Laboratory Scientist laid a strong foundation for me. I was immersed in each department at my workplace and had to learn how to operate each one on my own. I always had help available, but it couldn’t become a crutch because when things hit the fan…they REALLY go left. That year was hard but necessary. Coming up on year two of being certified and licensed, and man, I’ve learned so much more.
Reasonable Doubt is a law term. I won’t go too in-depth because that is not my expertise, but I did briefly participate in Mock Trial as a witness at my alma mater the University of Louisiana Monroe, and I learned that “beyond a reasonable doubt” signifies “that the evidence presented and the arguments put forward by the prosecution establish a defendant's guilt so clearly that they must be accepted as fact by any rational person” (Investopedia). It is the highest burden of proof needed to secure a guilty verdict in a criminal case.
I use beyond a reasonable doubt differently. Although I worked as a generalist, Blood Banking was always my “thing.” Everyone has their favorite department, you know. Blood Bank can be fast-paced. With any trauma, you have to think fast to get units out in time. It’s exciting, but also nerve-wracking knowing someone's life is on the line and you’re one of many people involved in that outcome. Aside from that, oftentimes in my field the most terrifically awesome things to see, such as abnormal cells, means a bleak prognosis for our patients. It’s a double-edged sword. You never want to lose the excitement so that work becomes dull but you have to be humble enough to know what that means for the patient at the other end of that result. We are taught to be observative and not miss the bad, but also cautious enough to not over-call. We have to provide enough information to help doctors treat, but not get ahead of ourselves.
Pictured above: sickled-cell in peripheral blood smear.
Like Agent Morris from “Limelight,” I knew I was smart. I knew that I knew my blood bank as well as other things, but there’s a fine balance between being confident enough to go with your move, and being too cocky to take precautions. Reasonable doubt for me is having SO much confidence that I’m secured in what I do know, but I also know that rechecking, getting a second eye, and going back to correct is way better than being loud and wrong. Wrong can cost someone their life. Luckily for me, there are protocols and checks in place to catch mistakes made by inexperienced geeks like me to where it doesn’t get to that point, but in terms of my personal growth in the field, I’ve just matured and see things differently. Some of my initial excitement has waned, and now when I see some of the “awesome” it’s immediately followed with more empathy, so much so that I take even more time to ensure that awesome result is the most accurate and thorough I can provide, of course without over-calling.
I guess you can call year two, “cool, calm, and collected.” I’m not as anxious and don’t overthink my decisions to where I toil over them forever, but I am confident in my ability to question myself when necessary. I’ve accepted that being wrong doesn’t make me a bad scientist, but instead I’m even better for using the times I am wrong to build on them. No one person that I work with knows everything no matter the degree or years of experience. We all rely on each other heavily to put all our brains to use and make the best decisions for our patients.
I cannot wait to see what new things I'll learn in year three.
If you missed it, check out last year's featured Labora-story on the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) blog here.