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For high visibility and low-cost recruitment, talk to students.

Skillfully planned presentations at high schools engender respect for the field and may spark young people's interest in joining the ranks of clinical laboratory professionals.

Now more than ever we need to bring "new blood" into the laboratory. How can we, as proponents of the profession, accomplish this objective? Becoming dynamic clinical laboratory recruiters is a step in the right direction. Effective recruitment presentations can do more than disseminate information about the clinical laboratory. They also stimulate students' interest in the field by explaining laboratorians' impact on patient care.

In giving more than a dozen presentations each year to local high schools, I have learned what excites students about the field and what they want to know about joining it (see "Ten questions students ask most," page 53). Suggestions in this article can be incorporated into any recruitment presentation.

* Overcoming obstacles. One special challenge is to demystify the field. We all know there is a general lack of knowledge about our behind-the-scenes profession; it's evidenced by the sea of blank faces staring up at me when I begin each talk. Conveying the important role of medical technologists in patient care isn't always easy.

Another problem is time. Frequently, high school recruitment presentations are held in conjunction with a career day or during a biology class. Either situation imposes agonizing time constraints. Worse, it is not uncommon for two speakers to be scheduled for a single class period, giving each speaker less than half an hour to inform, motivate, and answer questions.

A third difficulty is that exposure to any new information is subject to students' limited attention spans. Showing videos and getting students directly involved with glucose testing and blood typing can work wonders; unfortunately, including these activities is not always feasible because of time factors, class size, and teaching schedules.

* Class participation. Unless a recruiter can define lab results and explain how they affect patients, students will remain confused about what a medical technologist does. To illustrate how medical technologists provide physicians with important clues about the nature of disease, I introduce hypothetical mini-case histories that incorporate lab data. Whenever possible I use an overhead projector, microscope slides, and sealed agar plates; often a blackboard must suffice.

One case study involves a patient with a bacterial respiratory infection. Students observe two agar plates, one containing normal throat flora and the other with a growth of group A strep. I ask students to note the differences between the colonies in the plate with normal flora and the one containing pathologic microorganisms in size, color, growth characteristics, and behavior. Students observe that hemolysis has occurred due to the action of group A strep.

Another case involves a fictitious patient with leukemia. I ask students to analyze split frames of immature and mature WBCs and teach them to point out differences in size, shape, and internal cell structure.

For each case study, I discuss control values. Students help interpret whether the results are reliable and, if so, whether they are normal or abnormal. Teenagers can be inventive in suggesting what disease might be causing an abnormal result. I note the steps a physician might take after being given a particular lab result, such as ordering additional tests, prescribing antibiotics, or scheduling tranfusions or iron therapy for a patient. Examples of tests for diseases and conditions familiar to students, such as diabetes, pregnancy, and cholesterol, work best. Using a severely lipemic specimen, I highlight the effect of diet on cholesterol levels.

When time permits, I invite students to draw fake blood from a lifelike arm that I bring to class--always a favorite. Before I start, however, I explain the importance of precautions such as wearing gloves and lab coats. I've gotten parents and teachers to volunteer for fingerstick blood typing and assigned students to stir, add antisera, and evaluate test results. No student is permitted to participate in this activity without a parent's permission, which I always obtain beforehand.

Asking students to share their own experiences with phlebotomists and discuss illnesses that required lab testing helps them understand the contributions of laboratorians as members of a health team. In these discussions I focus on the medical technologist's role in diagnosing illnesses common among teenagers, such as strep throat and mononucleosis.

I ask those who have undergone throat cultures if they can tell the class what happened to the swab after the culture was taken. Few ever know the answer. I then explain that laboratorians identified the pathogens that caused their illnesses and provided their physicians with information about which drugs would work best to eliminate the pathogens in question.

* Communication tips. You'll enhance any recruitment talk by following a few simple rules for effective communication. They may seem elementary, but being reminded of them never hurts.

[paragraph]No one absorbs the words of a monotone speaker. Present your material in a conversational tone. Sounding more natural, you'll relax, establish a rapport with your audience, and convey enthusiasm for your topic. Speak slowly enough to permit students to take notes.

[paragraph] By maintaining eye contact with your audience, you will receive visual clues about the general level of comprehension and interest, moment by moment.

[paragraph] Avoid putting lecterns, tables, and other obstacles between yourself and the students. If you move around the room as you speak, the audience will stay more alert. Even walking toward and away from the blackboard can be enough movement to keep their attention. Use gestures. Smile, be energetic and friendly, and don't hesitate to be funny when appropriate.

* Be prepared. A well-rehearsed presentation tells the audience that the speaker is organized and prepared--coincidentally vital traits in the lab. A professional demeanor will enhance your credibility.

The beginning and end are as important as the body of a lecture. Tell your audience at the start what you hope to accomplish; this will provide them with a listening goal. Conclude by summarizing your main points and providing the names of laboratory professionals to contact about career options. Suggest activities that will provide exposure to various sections of the lab, such as tours and volunteer work. Offer to set up appointments for these.

Youngsters appreciate having take-home materials. I provide a variety of informative handouts, including brochures, pamphlets, and other reading materials on how to become a medical technologist. Some are my own work; others were produced by professional organizations.

* Follow up. Provide index cards on which those who would like to learn more can write their names and addresses. A few weeks later. send students who have expressed interest a signed letter thanking them for attending and restating a few gems from your talk. These letters will impress students as representations of your personal interest in their career planning.

Like any teacher, you may never know the long-term results of your efforts. A fine personal reward would be to swell the ranks of your own staff with laboratory professionals inspired by your presentations. In any case, you will have helped the next generation acknowledge the vital work done in the clinical laboratory.

Ten questions students ask most (and what to tell them)

"How do I know whether a career in modical technology is right for me?"

Encourage students to examine their interests, aptitudes, and goals. Ask them if a human service occupation sounds appealing and if they would rather work with medical data and sophisticated instrumentation than directly with patients. Suggest that they talk to local lab professionals and visit a laboratory or other health care environment or work in one part time to see how they like it.

"What does a medical technologist do?"

A simple answer is best. Compare the laboratorian to a medical detective providing clues to other health care workers who depend on clinical data to diagnose, manage, and cure disease. Discuss activities associated with such fact-finding: using science knowledge to perform testing procedures, working with medical equipment and computers, and making independent judgments to evaluate patient test results.

"How much are medical technologists paid?"

Discuss the current average starting salaries for new graduates in your geographic area, including information from state, regional, and city surveys, if available. Note variables that could affect starting salaries: size of facility, type of lab (hospital, referral, POL), and shift differentials, for example.

"Could I get AIDS from working in a laborstory?"

Explain the risk of contracting communicable diseases in the laboratory, emphasizing the importance of handling specimens according to carefully written industry-wide guidelines and universal precautions as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control. Take this opportunity to describe the extent to which lab workers go to make their environment safe for themselves and their colleagues.

"What should I study in high school to prepare for a career in the field?"

Encourage students to pursue a college prep curriculum and to enroll in science-oriented classes, particularly advanced biology, mathematics, and computer science.

"After graduation, where would I train?"

Provide literature on programs for medical technologists and medical technicians in your area. Supply the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the appropriate people to contact for more information.

"How long does it take to become a medical technologist?"

Discuss the length of time required to complete technologist and technician programs, explaining that the latter is ideal for students unwilling or unable to pursue a four-year degree. Be sure to mention the clinical experience students obtain in hospitals at the end of their training.

"Will I have trouble finding a job?"

Discuss the current demand for medical technologists. Explain the positive reasons for this demand, such as new technologies and the increasing elderly population who require more health services.

"Where do medical technologists work?"

Introduce the myriad laboratory work settings open to today's graduates: small community labs, POLs, large hospital labs, clinics, referral labs, and more. Describe nontraditional roles they can assume, including employment in commercial firms associated with laboratory-related products, procedures, equipment, or services.

"Is them much opportunity for advancement?"

Outline traditional positions to which medical technologists have been promoted, including section supervisor and quality assurance manager. Explain the feasibility of making lateral career moves to areas such as research and diagnostic product development and marketing. Be sure to point out that climbing a career ladder may call for furthering one's formal education, moving to a different section of the laboratory, or relocating and securing employment with an institution that offers better opportunities. Associate professional advancement with a concerted effort to set goals and plan ahead.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gouin, Nancy
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:1735
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