The Beauty of the Laboratory
Appreciating the art of the medical laboratory beyond the microscope
It’s easy to become mired in the day-to-day tasks of the laboratory. Too often, we let ourselves get caught up in what is right in front of us; the need to run more tests, increase output, and decrease turnaround times. We often feel the need to prove to other healthcare professionals that the laboratory is not only valuable, but that patient care would fall apart without it. Although this is true, when we’re caught up in battling what’s right in front of us, we often miss the opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture.
It’s easy to miss the beauty in that bigger picture – but we can never doubt that it is there.
We’ve all heard the trope that pathologists and medical laboratory scientists rarely venture out of their laboratories and that they only see patients under a microscope. That could not be further from the truth.
Yes, many pathologists’ and medical laboratory scientists’ jobs require them to be in the laboratory more often than not and lab roles aren’t as patient-facing as others in healthcare, though we are working to change that. But to say that we only see our patients under a microscope is both false and limiting. Beyond the fact that there are multiple patient-facing laboratory roles – we touch just about every patient – we also inevitably see our patients everywhere and in everything we do. Every time we go out into the world, we see our patients. Every person who has received a life-changing diagnosis or who has used the results of a medical test to advocate for better care for themselves or a loved one is our patient. Every time we see people experiencing life after medical care, we know that we had a hand in it. We were part of their process. We played, and perhaps continue to play, a significant role in their health journey. There is incredible beauty in knowing that we have helped others live life to its fullest. And there is nothing more beautiful than knowing we have helped someone when they needed it most.
It is not strictly science that we practice – there is an art to bringing that beauty to life in the laboratory. To see the whole picture of a patient and understand what they need and how we can provide for them takes skill and knowledge. To do our jobs means we must realize that high-quality care starts the moment a patient comes into our orbit. We set the example for other members of the healthcare team and lend our gravitas to that responsibility.
I hope we can all take a moment to pause and reflect on what drew us to the laboratory and on the beauty we have created in and out of the lab. Let’s take pride in our accomplishments and share them boldly. Our voices matter and our skills are unparalleled. Without them, our profession would not be as vibrant, rich, or beautiful.
CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology