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Strategies to achieve recognition and status.

The author is a management consultant and educator; director of Health Management Analysts, Los Gatos, Calif.; and laboratory operations advisor, Ernst & Whinney, Chicago.

Each month MLO sends a questionnaire to a representative sample of readers for feedback on the latest issue of the magazine. To help the editors plan future topics, these readers are also asked to mention a lab-related problem they are most concerned about.

Lack of professional status and of recognition appear among he responses month after month. A solution to these problems often suggested by readers is that physicians, administrators, and other health care professionals somehow be educated about the contributions of laboratorians.

No one doubts that laboratorians have an identity problem. They are the invisible members of the health care team. Their selfesteem is eroding because they are not considered as important as nurses and others who have direct patient contact.

Part of the problem lies with laboratory managers, who tend to be less involved in institutional activities than managers of other departments. They are oriented mainly toward laboratory activities and are less likely to think in global terms. Thus their status in the institution's management hierarchy and their ability to promote the laboratory are diminished. They very seldom reach the executive status achieved by nursing directors.

A recent study conducted by the inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services found the status, autonomy, and authority of chief nursing officers is greater now than ever before. The study focused on how nurses participate in hospital decision making.

The researchers found per cent of chief nursing officers report directly to the hospital chief executive officer. In addition, 5 per cent serve on their hospital executive committee and 6 per cent serve on the hospital finance committee. A large number attend hospital board meetings and medical staff committee meetings.

There is justification for all this because of the critical role nurses play in day-to-day care of the patient. Laboratory managers may never reach the same status. But they can become more involved in overall operations and move from being passively invisible to assertive, highly visible roles.

A representative of an executive search firm recently told me that her most difficult task is finding a laboratory manager who meets present employer-desired qualifications. She said many job applicants lack financial management and marketing skills, are unable to relate to other departments, and have a technical rather than a management focus. In fact, she found several employers willing to hire a business manager without technical orientation in order to meet institutional needs for the lab manager's position.

How can others be convinced that laboratory professionals can do more, that they are a vital part of quality patient care, and that they have a broad base of critical knowledge and skills?

Before taking action, laboratorians must understand that they alone are responsible for improving their own professional position. No one can grant you and your colleagues status and recognition; you must earn it.

Begin by looking like a professional: well groomed and dressed with good taste. Two of my graduate students were recently promoted to operational management positions in their hospital laboratory. They changed their mode of dress from simple and casual to more conservative. Soon individuals in other departments asked if they had been promoted to management, and the security guard no longer scrutinized their employee badges. One of the young managers is now being addressed as "Sir." They were both pleasantly suprised to learn that clothes do indeed make the person.

Once you begin looking like a professional, it will be easier to move to the next step-acting like one. We will assume that you perform your laboratory work according to high standards. But do you also participate in institutional activities outside the department? Do you serve on hospital committees? Do you attend medical staff conferences, visit the wards to discuss problems directly with nurses, inform your employer of new technological or regulatory changes that affect the laboratory, and generally function as an employee of the hospital and not just the laboratory'? Do you go the extra mile and take on additional responsibilities or just fall back on the excuse that "it's not my job"'?

Another way to act professionally is to participate in laboratory association activities. Nurses and pharmacists enjoy high visibility and status because they belong to and support their professional societies. They believe in taking responsibility for their future by influencing decisions that will affect their profession.

Finally, you can enhance respect for your contributions and acknowledgment of your role in health care by paying attention to patient outcome as well as to test results. Laboratorians must learn that responsibility for quality assurance extends to assuring appropriate interpretation, correlation, and application of test results. It is not enough to say that quality control was fine, so the result must be correct. If that result is not received on time, or if the physician is not fully aware of its implications, you could just as well have skipped the test.

All of these strategies place the responsibility on each of you to educate physicians, nurses, administrators, and others in the health care field. It is highly unlikely that your importance will be recognized unless you make an effort to act in a professional manner beyond the laboratory.

Start developing new work habits and take the initiative to sell yourself to the rest of the world. Be sure, however, that you have something worth selling, that it is packaged appropriately, and that it meets patient needs.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Barros, Annamarie
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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