Spring is a special season – it is a time of transition and renewal, very fitting for the season of graduations and new beginnings. Last month, I attended the graduation ceremony for our clinical lab scientist (CLS) training program which also includes a welcome and white coat ceremony for our incoming CLS class. I always enjoy attending this event – there was a wonderful turnout of our active CLS staff and pathologists, and many retirees, too. I find it very rewarding to see the commitment and pride from so many as we welcome our graduates and new trainees to the profession.
The portion of this event that I especially enjoy is when the out-going CLS class helps the incoming class don their white lab coats – truly a personal and heartfelt “hand-off” from one class to the next – which is then followed by the new students taking the pledge to the medical laboratory profession. The white coat and the public pledge are both important symbols of what it means to be part of this impactful and elite health care profession, and excellent reminders to all of us, regardless of which of the many health care professions we serve in, that welcoming and supporting our colleagues in their commitment to caring for others is one of the many elements of professionalism.
Professionalism is receiving increasing attention in health professional training programs. As an example, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education added professionalism as the seventh of the core competencies for residency training, highlighting the need to include the development of professional identity within our curriculum. According to a recently published survey from the College of American Pathologists, professionalism is one of the top two qualities that employers look for when hiring new pathologists, almost tied with diagnostic skills (1). I imagine that a high value on professionalism must be true for employers hiring all laboratory professionals, not just pathologists, since this is a quality we seek here at UC Davis Medical Center. But do we all really know what it means to be a professional or to demonstrate professionalism in our field of pathology and laboratory medicine?
I think that one of the best definitions of professionalism in the clinical laboratory setting is provided in the following pledge taken by our CLS students during their white coat ceremony (2). I especially like this pledge not only because it outlines many facets of professionalism, it places front and center a promise to put patients' needs above our own – in other words, it promotes selflessness. We have many competing priorities in our world – teaching duties, research obligations, patient care, as well as our commitments to our own families and to our own personal needs, like wellness. But a career in health care often means a certain level of self-sacrifice to care for those sick, vulnerable, and in need – this sacrifice is what makes our profession a noble one. Though this pledge is provided by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, you'll note that the first line clearly states that this is for “medical laboratory professionals”, therefore making it applicable to all of us, including pathologists, and the many other professionals that work in our laboratories, not just clinical lab scientists:
As a Medical Laboratory Professional, I pledge to uphold my duty to Patients, the Profession and Society by:
• Placing patients' welfare above my own needs and desires.
• Ensuring that each patient receives care that is safe, effective, efficient, timely, equitable and patient-centered.
• Maintaining the dignity and respect for my profession.
• Promoting the advancement of my profession.
• Ensuring collegial relationships within the clinical laboratory and with other patient care providers.
• Improving access to laboratory services.
• Promoting equitable distribution of healthcare resources.
As members of an academic health center, we all have a special obligation to promote and teach professionalism. For this reason, I am delighted that our grand rounds speaker on April 3 is Penn State's Ronald Domen MD, a widely recognized leader in professionalism education in pathology and lab medicine. Dr. Domen promotes a case-based teaching approach (3) that I'm sure we will all find interesting and useful.
I am also happy to share that we have just launched our first annual departmental awards to recognize professionalism among our faculty, staff, and trainees. We have many inspirational examples among our colleagues – they deserve recognition; plus, the high value that our department places on professionalism deserves visibility, too. Criteria for the award includes demonstrating commitment to professional competence, improving quality of care, scientific knowledge, professional responsibilities, patient confidentiality, and maintaining trust by managing conflicts of interest. Please take this opportunity to honor your colleagues and submit your nominations to Shawn Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org) by April 21, 2017.
Lastly, April is the month for Lab Week which we will be celebrating April 23-29. The purpose of Lab Week is to increase public understanding of and appreciation for clinical laboratory professionals (4). Though we are often touted as behind-the-scenes heroes, the professionalism among the members of our department shines and creates appreciation and awareness of what we do. I truly appreciate the selflessness that is often required to meet our departmental goals and missions, especially in current times when resources are increasingly constrained and changes are ever-present. As is often said, superheroes don't wear capes, they wear white coats, and I am proud to have a department full of white coated heroes. I wish you all a happy spring and a well-deserved Lab Week celebration!
- Post MD et al. Employer expectations for newly trained pathologists: report of a survey from the Graduate Medical Education Committee of the College of American Pathologists. 2017; 141:193-202.
- Domen RE et al. Professionalism in pathology: a case-based approach as a potential educational tool. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2017; 141:215-219.