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PR strategies to boost the image of medical technology; by taking part in three kinds of community activities, lab professionals can raise their field out of obscurity and win supporters.

Medical technologists? They're "the nurses who do lab tests," as some patients put it. Most members of the general public do not know how educated MTs are or how much they contribute to medical care. Even sadder, other allied health personnel and clinicians are often just as uninformed about the profession and practice of medical technology.

MTs have long been plagued by a double-edged image problem. They either have no image at all--which makes them invisible members of the health care team--or they have an image that is false and unflattering.

Concern about this situation is intensifying in the laboratory field. The major health care legislation of the 1980s, changes in the structure of medical technology professional organizations, and technological advances have lent urgency to the image issue. These forces can lead to drastic changes in laboratory staffing, so it is important for everyone to be clear about the role of medical technologists.

Recent writers have devoted a lot of effort to finding blame for the image problems in medical technology. Finding causes is part of problem solving, but the primary focus should be on conveying accurate information about the profession and projecting an image that medical technologists can be proud of.

Many technologists would not mind devoting some of their free time to placing their field in the public eye while promoting a sound professional image. They don't know where to start, however. Besides, we're talking about public relations, and that conjures up notions of complicated and costly enterprises.

Let's explore some simple ways to start--three strategies that any element of medical technology can use, whether it be a single technologist or a laboratory department or an MT school. They aim to enhance the professional image of medical technologists by providing much needed information or services for others. They can be conducted at little or no cost, or they can be as elaborate as time and money allow. They require planning, creativity, and effort, but that's a small investment for the enormous goodwill and image enhancement that they will reap.

For real impact, the following kinds of public relations strategies should be implemented in many locales. Medical technology isn't going to capture the eye of the public as long as its image-conscious crusaders are few in number.

* Health fairs. These events are held at shopping malls, community centers, and other convenient locations. They are usually sponsored by municipal or county health agencies. Health fairs give members of the general public an opportunity to expand their medical and health knowledge in a relaxed and congenial atmosphere.

Health care providers, health agencies, social services, universities, and hospitals frequently participate in fairs. They dispense information and counseling and offer free medical services, such as routine eye exams, glaucoma testing, blood pressure readings, respiratory volume determinations, and simple laboratory tests.

Having a technologist talk about the clinical laboratory at a table or booth is the easiest and cheapest health fair activity. You can supplement it by distributing brochures about laboratory tests.

An activity with more appeal provides free basic lab tests, including fingerstick glucoses or dipstick urines. In that case, of course, you need to arrange proper facilities and materials. It's also important to emphasize to visitors at the fair that you are not diagnosing disease but performing a simple monitoring test. Abnormals should be followed up by a visit to physician or clinic.

If spending limits bar use of reagents or supplies for this kind of activity, ask sales representatives to donate materials. A company may be albe to give you nearly out-of-date supplies and write it off as a charitable contribution. You can show your gratitude by posting notice of the company's generosity at the health fair.

* Community speaking engagements. Volunteer to be a guest speaker. It's probably the most fundamental way to get public attention and describe your work. Speaking is also an enjoyable opportunity to meet diverse community groups.

Men's and women's clubs and business, professiona, civic, and service organizations often search for guest speakers to round out meeting agendas. Similarly, public school teachers seek representatives of different professions to give classes firsthand information on the working world.

These groups are usually eager to have a technologist speak about the clinical laboratory or medical technology careers. Chances are good that not a single member of the audience will know what a medical technologist is, but most probably have had a blood test performed and want to learn how the speciment was used in diagnosis. Slides or other audiovisual materials can augment the talk.

How do you get on the speakers' circuit? Contact clubs and organizations with which you are already familiar and let them know you are available to address one of their regular meetings. IF the Chamber of Commerce maintains a speakers' bureau--a list of people in the community available to lecture--have your name added to it. Colleges and universities often have speakers' bureaus, too.

Another idea is to call local schools, especially science teachers and departments, and tell them you are willing to make a classroom visit and talk about your profession.

* Career days. Many grade schools, junior high schools, and high schools sponsor these events at least once a year. Students get a chance to learn more about a variety of career options, the education and training the careers require, and the life-styles of people in them. Call individual schools or the school system's central office and ask to be included on the next program.

Career days are usually eagerly anticipated and well attended, which makes them a fertile ground for planting the message about medical technology. You may recruit future technologists at the same time.

The best approach is to bring a technologist in to talk with students and answer questions. A simple prop, such as a blood-drawing tray, can arouse a great deal of interest, too. One of us received a stack of fan mail after showing a class how a rubber arm is used to practice phlebotomy.

A slide show about the clinical laboratory adds significantly to a career day presentation. If your organization doesn't have a suitable program, you can prepare one easily. You will need a camera, at most a few rolls of slide film, and a few dollars to process it.

Keeping your audience in mind, walk through the laboratory and take action photographs of technologists on the job. Interesting-looking instruments and other unfamiliar sights in the clinical lab will draw a flood of questions from the audience.

Borrow a projector on career day and project your slides on the nearest blank wall. Tailor your narration to suit the level and needs of the audience.

You can adapt an assembled slide collection to fit different occasions--health fairs and speaking engagements, for example. Select the photos that best illustrate your message and, again, modify the narration to match the situation.

After a career day talk, invite interested students to the laboratory for a tour.

These three strategies can work as described, or your laboratory can make them springboards to other worthwhile activities, such as a lab tour and an open house. Whatever the approach, remember that the public is waiting to hear about the medical technology profession. Let's be sure they get the information and get it right.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Butera, Roberta Jacobs
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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