Do retired healthcare professionals vote themselves out of professional existence?
Ah, the election season.
This year, it seems particularly challenging to be a part of the process — with the presidential candidates providing more sound bites than substance. I have a real uncertain feeling about the future of our country at this 2016 crossroads. All I can do is be a good citizen, stay informed and vote.
Reflecting on this, I could not help but see a connection between the important decisions being made about our nation and those being made about our profession, especially by those either close to retirement or already retired. It is not uncommon to hear estimations, as we near Election Day, of the percentage of Americans who will actually exercise their right to vote. The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC reported, “A cliff-hanger presidential election, major issues at stake, an estimated $6 billion spent in the 2012 campaigns and an eight million person increase in the eligible voters all failed to sustain the upward momentum for turnout from 2004 and 2008.”1
Voter turnout in 2000 was 54.2%, 60.4% in 2004, 62.3% in 2008 and 57.5% in 2012.1 How many citizens did not exercise their right? From 37.7% to 45.8% of our citizenry have allowed, for whatever reason, others choose the country’s leadership so far in the 21st century.
That is amazing to me since we pride ourselves on our freedoms and our hard-fought battles to keep them, and we highly memorialize those who have died to protect them. Veterans, who have been at that frontline doing the defending, choose to vote in elections in greater percentages. In 2012, veteran turnout neared 70%. To have put that much effort, time and talent into actively guaranteeing a safe and secure country and then not participate in one of its most treasured rights is inconceivable.
The Imminent Brain Drain
All of us know what it means to master our Body of Knowledge — the hours and years of undergraduate and graduate school, plus continuing education; the balancing act of raising a family while juggling shifts; and the day-to-day troubleshooting of QC, patient results, clinician requests and never-ending advocacy. After doing that for a whole career, why would such an individual, at around the age of 65, choose to “vote” themselves out of professional existence because they retired?
What is usually quite happily being left behind is the job, but not the profession. I continue to be seriously worried about the drain being experienced in our profession. This is an urgent call to all medical laboratory professionals who have been the face and the heart of the profession for the second half of the 20th century. Your expertise is too precious to lose. Your insights are too crucial to remain silent.
The Balancing Act
Balancing the joy of retirement with the realities of what is being left behind can be difficult. I suggest some reflective questions of those of us close to or at retirement age-as well as those younger colleagues already moving into leadership roles, perhaps even within a year or two of graduating.
“Let the younger ones get involved.”
As a retiree, are you doing anything to mentor and provide an historical perspective without squashing creative new (or even rehashed “old”) approaches to professional issues? Are your younger colleagues seeking out such mentorship and welcoming such insights (even encouraging them) despite “been there, done that” attitudes? The ASCLS mentorship program is making wonderful strides to make this happen. Are you a mentor? A mentee?
“Now that I am retired, I am too busy.”
As in your active working-for-a-wage days, those things that are most important to you will eventually take priority. Will you abdicate any responsibility to continue the legacy you worked so hard to build? Are you not concerned about who is doing your lab tests?
Such a concern, I would think, would only heighten with the prospect of untrained, uncertified, unlicensed individuals being allowed to work in a clinical lab. Where is your voice as a consumer of those lab tests and as an advocate for patient safety? Just because you are no longer working in a lab, it does not remove your connection to our Code of Ethics and the Pledge to the Profession.2
“I’ve been president of my state society three times already. Let someone else do it now that I am no longer working in the field.”
Maintaining the connection with our community (and I would even say “family”) of professional colleagues is essential to assure the future of this wonderful profession. During my final year as a presidential officer in ASCLS, I gave a seminar to outgoing presidents of the state societies within ASCLS. I had them give me words that made up the letters of “PRESIDENT” that would characterize that experience. Some submitted were:
“Provide a service.”
“Experience of a lifetime.”
“Needed to know when to ask for help.”
“Time well spent.”
It certainly sounds like phrasing that acknowledges both the responsibility of being a leader as well as the fulfillment of service. I propose that, if this connection continues, there is much more to be gained than lost by both the retiree and the rest of the “family.”
“I’m on a fixed income and can’t pay my professional society membership dues.”
No excuse! I am a firm advocate for ASCLS membership for all laboratory professionals. The things that make up a retiree’s budget may not be able to include flying to annual meetings, but they can definitely spare the 27.4¢ a day needed to continue to have a voice and a vote on all things related to medical lab science. At least for me, that is one part of my budget that will never go away until the day I die!
Mary Ann McLane, PhD, MLS(ASCP)cm, is a professor in the department of medical laboratory sciences at the University of Delaware, and has served as both the ASCLS President (’09-’10) and ASCLS-DE President (’12-’17).
1. Bipartisan Policy Center. 2012 Voter Turnout Report, 11/8/2012.
2. ASCLS. Code of Ethics and Pledge to the Profession.