ASCLS Voice: How to Avoid Burnout

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Retirees still have a vital role in the laboratory profession despite no longer working in the field. Particularly with providing advice on how to avoid burnout in the Lab.

Let me introduce myself. I am a medical technologist, clinical laboratory scientist or medical laboratory professional. The titles are interchangeable—just don’t call me a nurse.

I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. It started during grade school and high school when a couple of TV shows about forensic science, one of which was “Quincy,” piqued my interest and enthusiasm. My choice of medical technology as my college major naturally flowed from that.

In my clinical year, our program coordinator had us join ASMT (now ASCLS) as student members. We attended the state society meeting and entered the poster competition. After graduation, I entered the work force and allowed my membership to lapse.

My program coordinator called many times to try and get me to join ASMT as a professional, and I politely declined. Even when I was hired to work at the Air Force Academy Hospital Laboratory, I said no once more. I didn’t feel that, as a federal employee, I needed to join any professional association. But she persisted, and eventually I caved—mainly to stop her pestering me. I have been a member now for over 40 years.

Engagement: this is characterized by energy, involvement and efficacy: the antithesis of burnout.

I believe most of us graduated from a training program and entered the workforce fully engaged. We came to work every shift, eager to take our place in the healthcare arena, serving the patients by performing tests, collating results and playing an integral role in helping the clinicians diagnose, treat and monitor patients. I know I was proud of what I did and gladly told anyone who asked: “I am a MT, CLS, MLS and I help your doctor diagnose and treat you.”

This answer was mostly met with a blank stare and more notably was followed by, “Are you a Nurse?” But I would bite my tongue and explain what I really did.

Who I am and What I do

Professionalism: the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person; and it defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.”

I completed formal education, followed by a year in clinical training in a specific profession. I consider laboratory science as my professional career, but it was so much more than “a job.” I took ownership of my daily tasks, did the best I could and always thought of the patients for whom I was running the procedure as members of my family: whom would I want working on someone I loved?

Burnout: a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation and feelings of ineffectiveness, resulting in reduced efficacy in the workplace.

After years of working in a closed environment, not receiving the recognition of others on the healthcare team that I sincerely felt I deserved—as well as the compensation that (in my opinion, my education and expertise) was due—my satisfaction and enthusiasm began to wane. That is when my ASCLS membership and meeting attendance proved to be the stimulus I needed.

Attending the ASCLS Annual Meetings brought me into contact with many other laboratory professionals who were having similar feelings. Being around people who share a common problem allowed me to understand that I was not alone in how I felt. We could all relate to one another and come up with viable outlets to alleviate the burnout issues.

We may not have solved those problems, but just knowing we were not alone surely helped. Another advantage of ASCLS membership is its job recruitment aspect. If your unhappiness has made you consider relocation, ASCLS has the information and contacts to help make that happen.

Retirement

My friends and even my children ask me why I continue, albeit as an Emeritus member of ASCLS, and still attend the state, regional and annual meetings. I do not require continuing education credits. Being out of the workforce, it is almost impossible to keep abreast of all the new methodologies and instrumentation that is out there. And I know for a fact that they have assigned new names to some of the microorganisms that I studied in my internship, as well as new ones they have found.

So, why do I keep doing what I do? Why haven’t I “burned out” on my professional organization?

Each member of ASCLS plays a supportive role—not only in the society, but also to the clinical laboratory profession. We do this by the dues we pay and the service we provide (e.g., holding office, volunteering for a committee position, attending board meetings), but membership is a two-way street. We get as good as we give.

Networking:

  • Meeting other laboratory professionals and sharing ideas, expertise and problem solving.
  • Getting job availability information
  • Becoming aware of educational opportunities

Socializing:

  • Making new friends and renewing older relationships
  • Going out to dinner; even planning vacations together

Mentoring:

  • Sharing our experiences, our knowledge, our failures and successes—the positives and the negatives of our career choices

This is why I continue to pay my dues and attend State, Regional and National meetings. I want to see ASCLS grow larger and have a stronger, louder voice in the healthcare arena; I want to do my part to help increase membership and member retention; and I want to contribute to the mix, but most of all, I want to be an example that there is a place in ASCLS for “seasoned members”—those of us who still have a vital role in our professional society and in our profession despite no longer working in the field.

So, please make a point of introducing yourself to someone at the next meeting you attend—whether they are there for the first time, the 10th time or the 50th time. Share your story and listen to theirs. You can learn so much, and you will never wonder why so many of us Emeritus members are in attendance. And you will see first hand why burnout doesn’t have to be the career ending pit that we fear.

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About Author

Barbara A. Brown

Barbara A. Brown is a retired medical technologist. She retired from the USAF Academy Hospital laboratory after over 32 years as Hematology Supervisor. She has been a member of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science for 40 years.

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