Representing all laboratorians as “lab techs” hurts the profession

A few months ago I went to the doctor with a friend.  The nice young lady taking my friend’s vitals and medical history introduced herself as “Dr. O’s nurse”. I noticed her name badge read “RMA”- registered medical assistant. She was professional, competent and very friendly, but I wondered why she would represent herself as a nurse, when she clearly was not.

Just last week a nurse manager enquired why the “lab techs” in one particular clinic did not perform tests while others in the multi-facility organization did. Most of the clinics that she was familiar with had  laboratories with medical technologists/medical lab scientists. The smaller clinics, like the one she mentioned, were staffed with phlebotomists who collected samples and shipped them off to the laboratory for testing.  The phlebotomists she questioned explained that they were “not allowed” to perform testing; without explaining the difference in competency and scope of practice between a phlebotomist and an MLS. To the nurse, they were all  the lab or “lab techs.”

In the laboratory, the individual the customer (patient, public, doctor, nurse)sees most often -or speaks to first on the phone- is not a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) or CLT, but a phlebotomist or customer service representative. I have overheard such individuals overtly misrepresent themselves as  “lab technicians”, or at least not correct others who assume they are clinical laboratorians.

It does a dis-service to the profession and the customer if those we serve receive or act on incorrect or incomplete information from someone they presume to be an MLS. I think it also damages our image as a profession long-term when we let others in the health care assume everyone who is associated with medical lab science is a “lab tech” or can be accurately lumped together under the generic term “the lab”.

In some states at least it is illegal for a non-nurse to represent him or herself as a nurse. In most settings, registered nurses insist on making clear the difference in expertise, education and scope between registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). While there might appear to be a degree of elitism in that move, it is a very legitimate distinction that can only help patients, doctors and the profession itself.

I think the same distinction about scope and levels of practice should be clearly articulated to our customers.  For one it would avoid lots of frustration and  unrealistic expectations from those we serve.

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