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Job satisfaction: the possible dream.

Job satisfaction: The possible dream

Job satisfaction among medical technologists runs a full gamut. A few of us can't complain at all about our careers. Many more can complain but are nevertheless somewhat satisfied. And a few, seeing the worst in every situation, have the power to completely drain enthusiasm from an entire lab during an eight-hour shift.

How do we achieve or maintain a high level of job satisfaction in the face of growing cynicism in and outside the lab? It is all too easy to get an overdose of negative viewpoints from newspapers, and TV or radio news, not to mention our own colleagues.

In my own case, I had aspired to a medical technology career since the age of 10 and was highly motivated the day I first pinned my name tag to a lab coat. But long exposure to the rigors of the profession can dampen early idealism and optimism. Like everyone else, I get flat from time to time, but I can truthfully say much of my enthusiasm remains.

The antidote to discouragement during my 15-year career has been a bent for positive thinking. It is an old cure, and still effective. Let's explore its possibilities in different situations.

At the outset of medical technology careers, most complaints seem to involve not getting paid enough, working the later shifts, and being chained all day or night to bench work. To be young is to be a beginner and frequently impatient about it.

Understandably, economics force junior technologists to focus on their salaries and what's in store, more so perhaps than we did some years back. Planning for the future is commendable and necessary, but there is a temptation to think too far ahead. This often leads to preoccupation with schemes for instant advancement. Newer technologists should be helped to see that living in the present and refining necessary skills is a faster route upward than mulling over their position in the hierarchy.

As for pulling an undesired shift, that's a fact of life impressed upon medical technology students but seemingly put out of mind until they confront the reality of their first work schedule. In many laboratories, senior technologists don't work weekends, evenings, or nights. This is often grist for complaints by those who forget that senior technologists once took turns in the rotation.

Although many second and third shifters would accuse me of going too far, I'd say they have more fun and excitement. Lighter staffing and heavier Stat volume afford opportunities to move from bench to bench, instead of being confined to one work station. It is more challenging to do a variety of tests on a patient than to turn out nothing but calciums all day.

With the greater involvement in life-and-death situations and the constant coping with deadline pressure, a tremendous feeling of accomplishment comes out of surviving the shift. The younger technologist thus brings along confidence and self-reliance when transferring to day work.

Quite a few technologists complain of being stuck on the bench, as though that were a drawback. With a positive viewpoint they would realize that it is a chance they may never again have to develop and hone skills, become adept with instruments, and get work out quickly and accurately without a lot of distractions.

In time, one reaches the long-awaited position of senior technologist --more responsibility, more of a hand in decision making, perhaps a more flexible schedule. The transition may seem awkward at first, but operating at a level between former peers and management can be a satisfying challenge. Like everything else, it depends on outlook.

The keys are to delegate responsibility, encourage subordinates, and earn their respect. Then the entire staff pitches in to run an efficient department.

A sense of humor and a willingness to transcend fixed job descriptions when necessary will serve senior personnel well. On a particularly shorthanded day, our chief technologist was out in the laboratory making reagents. She endured teasing throughout the day: "Those are going to be pretty expensive reagents,' quipped one technologist. Similarly, I have borne the brunt of some precious remarks while washing pipettes or doing a glassware inventory. Good-natured gibes indicate rapport and a staff secure enough in its work to relax a bit with supervisors.

Taking charge of a laboratory section makes it increasingly difficult to claim expertise throughout the laboratory. Instead of bemoaning the lack of time to keep abreast of all the new technological developments, a positive thinker will concentrate on the challenge of managing a larger staff and carrying out new responsibilities. Specializing--learning as much as one can about the section's tests--should satisfy analytical curiosity.

The most common negative remarks heard at this stage of a career are "Where do I go from here?' and "This is a dead-end job.' Higher management positions are off in the distance, but there are only so many, and besides, not all technologists aspire to them. Although the rungs of the career ladder appear to be running out, alternatives exist in the form of "horizontal progressions.'

Many laboratories allow their technologists to expand a particular interest while maintaining some degree of bench work. For instance, I have been teaching student technologists in our clinical chemistry department for the past nine years. It is highly rewarding. Students are a positive influence, keeping you on your toes with surprising questions and even with criticisms of your technique. In many cases, only students can impart enthusiasm during moments of disillusionment. I have also expanded my teaching interest by assuming some responsibility for continuing education and orienting medical students and residents in some aspects of clinical chemistry.

Other possible pursuits for technologists include data processing and occupational health and safety. The whole lab benefits from the expertise acquired by one member of the staff.

To get any higher on the ladder, it is probably necessary to obtain added qualifications. This often entails continuing education courses, research, and report writing. Dormant skills generally surface, which is another source of satisfaction.

Taking CE courses with technologists from other hospitals often provides a fresh outlook and a forum for exchanging ideas. Although the grass sometimes seems greener elsewhere, conversations with colleagues at these courses may persuade you that it's better not to make a move.

But staying put in the closed environment of the laboratory becomes suffocating at times. We lose sight of our relationship to patients and the rest of the hospital. And we wonder if anyone knows we exist.

Participation in rounds once in a while, where possible, can help. It is likely to produce interesting, maybe gratifying revelations of how doctors see the lab. Observe nurses at work, too. They are not--as sometimes seems--individuals lurking over their telephones just waiting to put you on hold.

Seeing patients reminds us that they are our first priority. Touching base with such hospital departments as radiology, physiotherapy, and pharmacy strengthens the idea that we are part of a team.

Extracurricular involvement in professional organizations is another great way to stay motivated and avoid succumbing to negative feelings about the job. Recently I chaired the biochemistry program of our provincial convention. It tested my organizational abilities, gave me a chance to experience a different environment, and put me in contact with prominent and knowledgeable speakers.

Conventions provide interactions with other professionals on a large scale, and serve as an invaluable source of technical and clinical updates. The many committees of our regional and national societies constitute opportunities to be involved in the structure and politics of medical technology. Various publications not only keep technologists well informed but also furnish outlets for some of us budding journalists.

These kinds of activities draw us into efforts to identify and solve problems that seem to plague all laboratories. Such involvement outside our own work places allows direct input into the profession. In a broader sense, it becomes a source of career fulfillment and job satisfaction.

One more word of advice: Watch out for the coffee break. That's where the lab complainer does the most harm. And often, complaints are offered up without alternatives for improvement. The "world is out to get me' syndrome can be very contagious, and before long everyone may catch it.

On the other hand, bottling up feelings is not healthy. Sometimes it's more appropriate to air strong opinions in casual conversation with our peers than with the boss. But if the talk threatens to drag down morale by getting too negative, that's a cue for an optimist to swing it around with constructive comments.

Also try talking about something else besides work during breaks. Or if you feel you see enough of your colleagues, read a book instead.

All this said, please understand that I do not walk around with a permanent smile on my face. In fact, there have been times I've thought hibernating in an Arctic igloo might be better than working as a medical technologist. Still, I have put on my lab coat and gone back for more.

Difficult days occur in any profession. In my experience, the good days come around more often. Outlook is all important. Accentuate the positives!
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Aaron, Enid
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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