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The prestige of MTs in health care circles.

In our society, occupation fixes social status more firmly than almost any other factor. Jobs have surpassed such traditional social distinctions as ancestry, religious office, or political affiliation in establishing our prestige. Society's values and attitudes, in turn, influence how we perceive an occupation and how much esteem we accord it. Education, required knowledge, salary, and occupational authority and security all contribute to the way rate prestige on the job.

How do hospital colleagues view the social status of medical technologists? A search of two decades of relevant journals turned up little about the status or prestige of MTs as perceived by their hospital peers. To learn about the subject, we conducted survey on the social standing of Mts and 12 other allied health professions. The results revealed plenty of room for improvement in the image of clinical laboratorians.

We studied a volunteer group of 48 licensed physical therapists and 56 certified occupational therapists in five tertiary general or specialty hospitals in urban areas of Texas. We began with this group as a representative sampling of the allied health fields, complete with long-standing intergroup rivalries. In later research, we plan to explore the perceptions of nurses, physicians, and other allied health professions as well. The two groups of therapists were surveyed separately, but their responses did not differ significantly and were analyzed together.

The brief survey listed 13 types of allied health professionals, including medical technologists, and asked respondents to rate them with a numerical value that best expressed their opinion of each occupation's general social standing. The rating scale ranged from 1 for poor to 5 for excellent. To score the 13 jobs, we added up the frequency of responses for each rating per occupation, multiplied the frequencies by their rating weights (1 to 5), converted them to percentages, and divided the total by 5. The result was a prestige score ranging from a low of 20 to a high of 100.

We wanted to compare prestige rankings among allied health practitioners with the public's perception of other occupations. For this reason, the survey format and rating scale were identical to those used by the National Opinion Research Center in classic studies of job status. We could compare our data meaningfully with the center's long-term prestige scores for a representative cross-section of 99 jobs. NORC, a sociological research institute at the University of Chicago, has been keeping these figures since just after World War II, and the job rankings have been remarkably stable for the entire period.

The result were somewhat startling, as Figure I shows. Medical technologists, with a prestige score of 65, came in third from last among the 13 allied health fields surveyed, topping only dental hygienists and radiologic technologists. The highest prestige scores were given to physical therapists and speech pathologists, who ranked 83.3 and 79.8 respectively. These two top scores were in the same prestige range as professional-level occupations in the NORC studies. Next in rank came audiologists and occupational therapists, on the margins of the professional status level.

Then we compared the scores to those for various non-health occupations studied by NORC. The technologists' prestige score was equivalent to that of a carpenter in the NORC occupational hierarchy. It was higher than the NORC score of 63 achieved by plumbers and auto mechanics, but lower than the score of 67 given to playground directors and railroad conductors.

Ranking alongside carpenters and other manual trades may be jarring news for health professionals. It highlights the need to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the clinical laboratory profession within the health care community as well as outside it.

One might assume that respondents would rate their own groups higher due to bias and interprofessional friction, such as the traditional conflicts between physical and occupational therapists. Yet both groups in this study gave their respective colleagues identical social standing--first for PTs and fourth for OTs. The recognition of lower status by OTs themselves would indicate a minimal distortion from personal bias.

The low ranking for MTs suggests that while a shared workplace--the hospital--may provide opportunities to become familiar with other allied health fields, it does not necessarily lead to a better or more enlightened image of them.

Of course, this study is limited by certain factors, such as the use of a local and limited population of PTs and OTs. Further studies of other health professions will provide a fuller picture of prestige perceptions. But these results clearly indicate an urgent need for medical technologists to assess their interaction with other groups within and beyond a hospital or laboratory setting.

This survey examined only the perceptions of job prestige and made no attempt to discover how those perceptions were formed. We also plan to conduct so-called stereotype studies, in which respondents name specific behavioral traits they associate with members of various occupations. These findings may shed some light on why the allied health professions line up as they do.

In the meantime, medical technology professional organizations and other laboratory groups should explore the underlying reasons for the low ranking of MTs and its implications for recruiting, education, and job advancement. They must determine just what contributes to their image--training, work responsibilities, salary, or possibly a combination of these and other factors. They should also consider various approaches, such as in-service education or public relations efforts, to help enhance understanding of their profession's role and scope.

We plan to discuss these findings with local professional organizations in an effort to determine why the technologists' standing within the hospital is apparently so poor, at least among physical therapists and occupational therapists. Because each hospital department is competing against others for limited funds, the issue goes beyond professional pride. The perception of your professional worth or status may influence key decisions involving layoffs, the allocation of continuing education funds, and the delegation of administrative power.

What others think of you, in other words, will become increasingly important to your profession's future--and you just may need a major campaign to improve your image and prove your worth.
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Title Annotation:medical technologists have low occupational prestige among health care professionals
Author:Parker, Harry J.; Chan, Fong
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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