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If we're professionals, let's act the part.

First days on the job are usually memorable ones. Mine was no exception. There I was, wearing a freshly starched lab coat, white shirt, and tie, walking the hospital corridors in search of a certain patient's room, when a staff physician eagerly approached me. He shook my hand and welcomed me aboard.

When I mentioned that I worked in the lab, the physician's cordiality took an about-face. He had assumed that I was a new resident. Recognizing his major breach of protocol, he quickly withdrew his hand and walked away. This was my introduction to the negative perception of many individuals about our profession.

Looking back, I understand why the physician mistook me for a colleague. At the time, the "uniforms" of my fellow laboratorians consisted of work pants, T-shirts, and soiled lab coats--that is, until the lab director set eyes on my more formal attire. From that point, all male staff members were required to dress in a similar fashion. Needless to say, being the new kid on the block, I wasn't too popular with the other guys.

* Earning esteem. How can laboratorians expect to be considered professionals if we don't try to make a good impression? The way we dress, act, and communicate conveys our attitude at least as clearly as any string of credentials trailing behind our names.

[paragraph] Clothing. The public often measures professionalism by the way people dress, as demonstrated by the terms "blue-collar," "white-collar," and "pink-collar" workers. We are considered white-collar professionals, yet few white collars are visible in today's laboratory.

How would you feel if you went into a bank and found all the employees dressed in blue jeans and sneakers? You would probably think twice before entrusting your money to these individuals or taking their investment advice.

Some lab workers are concerned about ruining their good clothing. To them I emphasize the proper use of protective garments such as the lab coat. While no laboratorian is expected to buy expensive designer garments, certain attire is best reserved for wearing at home. Anyone who has recently bought a pair of jeans knows that the cost disparity between sports and dress clothing is now minimal.

[paragraph] Workplace. Many of us have little or no control over the size and design of our laboratory. We can, however, maintain clean work areas, which add to our image. Working in a quiet, uncluttered laboratory exudes a high degree of professionalism to outsiders. Conversely, a laboratory decorated with gaudy posters and serenaded by loud music might lead an observer to question the quality of the services provided there.

[paragraph] Verbal etiquette. The manner in which we speak to other reflects our level of professionalism. Everyday communication reinforces this point.

Do your employees answer the phone by saying, "Clinical laboratory"--or a curt "Lab"? Do they give their names and ask, "How may I help you?" or wait for the caller to speak first?

When tensions run high due to a heavy workload, do they cheerfully try to get the work done--or spend their time moaning and groaning? Does the staff demonstrate composure at all times when interacting with the medical staff? When tempers flare, do your employees make a bad situation worse by retorting rudely, or handle themselves as adults?

* Role models. Besides the basic theory and techniques taught in every medical technology program, students should be exposed to the fine art of professionalism. It is much easier to instill proper work habits in students, whose minds are open to new ideas, than to long-time employees.

These lessons shouldn't end in the classroom, however. Managers and supervisors need to set a good example and conduct themselves as true professionals every day. The way we dress, act, and talk to our employees has a tremendous influence on their work habits.

Also important is to project a professional image outside the laboratory. If we count on the mass media to do justice to our field, few people will know we exist, let alone view us in a positive light. Our professional societies need to educate the public, emphasizing the hightech nature of our jobs and the contributions we make toward better patient care. Such campaigning may even persuade more individuals to join our ranks.

Let's leave our blue jeans home, put on clean lab coats, and keep our workstations spotless. Let's treat all contacts inside the workplace and beyond with self-control and an aura of expertise. We'll never be treated as professionals unless we make the effort to look and act the part.

The author is administrator of clinical laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa.
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.

Article Details
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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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