“Two units of blood, STAT!” the doctor ordered right after evaluating the lab results. The patient was very pale and critically weak based on the nurse’s assessment that was done earlier. A couple of hours later, the nurse came back to the patient’s room holding a small, specialized bag half-filled with dark red stuff. “We need to give you blood to replace what you lost during the delivery” explained the nurse to the patient. “Thank you for saving my life” the patient cried.

Because of this kind of scenario in a hospital, most of us are under the impression that doctors and nurses are the only professionals providing care. But have you ever wondered who checks if the patient needs more blood before the doctor orders a transfusion?

Have you ever wondered who makes sure that the blood units which will be given to the patient are free from contagious viral diseases and that the blood units are safe for the patient – without any life-threatening reactions or complications? It is definitely not the nurses or the doctors!

Medical Laboratory Scientists, commonly known as the Laboratory Technologists, have this responsibility. They are the professionals that are part of the healthcare team in a hospital or sometimes in a clinic. Doctors rely on these professionals for patient care almost all the time.

Although unrecognized and usually unappreciated by many, Medical Laboratory Scientists are professionals with sophisticated knowledge in their field, and who make a significant contribution by helping to save lives in an inconspicuous way in the healthcare world.

Medical Laboratory Scientists and nurses are both part of the healthcare team and are commonly involved in patient care aside from the doctors. But Medical Laboratory Scientists are usually unrecognized by most patients as part of the team, as compared to nurses. Mainly, it is because Laboratory Scientists work inside the lab most of the time and rarely encounter the patient face to face. Patients usually recognize doctors and nurses as professionals giving care, and sometimes radiology technologists.

The only time a Laboratory Scientist sees a patient is when he/she collects blood samples or other specimens; however this scenario is just limited to small hospitals. In bigger hospitals, these professionals strictly work inside the laboratory because phlebotomy technicians/phlebotomists – another type of professionals, are the ones responsible for drawing patient’s blood. In addition, laboratories are generally located in secluded areas in hospitals; hence, patients or the general public don’t get to see Laboratory Scientists actually work or know if they really exist.

These professionals are like ghosts – seemingly inexistent. Thus, most of the people have no idea about the nature of their work; consequently making these professionals less appreciated and unpopular.

A Medical Laboratory Scientist’s work is broader and more intricate than one might think. Preparation of a donor’s blood for transfusion to a patient is just one aspect of their work.

These professionals perform complex chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic, and bacteriological tests. They examine body fluids such as blood, urine, sputum, stool, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), as well as other specimens. Laboratory results are the usual reports that the doctors get from these professionals. One of the basic and most common tests done by these professionals is a complete blood count or CBC. From this, doctors will know if a patient has an acute infection, anemia, leukemia, or other blood-related illnesses.

Because of the complex nature of their work, Medical Laboratory Scientists have to obtain a certain level of education and proper training. Academically, Medical Laboratory Scientists have a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Technology or Medical Laboratory Science or in a life/biological science (Biology, Biochemistry, etc.).

This is a four-year degree program, in which the students attend the classroom courses for three years and complete the clinical rotations in their final year of study. This degree program includes courses in chemistry, biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics and statistics, as well as specialized courses devoted to knowledge and skills used in the clinical laboratory. Although not mandatory, certification by a recognized professional association is usually necessary for employment because almost all employers nowadays prefer certified professionals. State licensure may also be required for this profession in some states.

Because this profession deals with people’s health through collaboration with doctors, it is expected that a higher level of education be required to ensure competency in the field.

Doctors don’t just guess a patient’s diagnosis and go on with the treatment. To fulfill their practice, they need Medical Laboratory Scientists’ help. “A medical doctor’s job is nearly impossible without the diagnostic information provided by the unsung heroes [Medical Laboratory Scientists] of laboratory science” (Thornton 44). Laboratory tests are ordered by medical doctors to screen, detect, monitor, or diagnose diseases.

Laboratory results are then interpreted usually as normal or abnormal. And in turn, the doctor will decide whether to do nothing, to do a confirmation test, to do another follow up test, or to do a treatment on the patient.

Sixty to seventy percent of all critical decision-making made by medical doctors is based from laboratory services (Forsman 813-816). Medical Laboratory Scientists are without doubt an integral part of patient care.

Unfortunately, as a debilitating consequence of the Medical Laboratory Scientist’s unpopularity, a shortage in this profession is perturbing and apparently getting worse. A lack of information available to the public about this profession could be the collective cause of the decline in the number of these professionals. The general public needs to know the importance of this profession to healthcare and to society as a whole.

Medical Laboratory Scientists are professionals with sophisticated knowledge in their field and certainly play a vital role in healthcare. By providing fast and accurate laboratory results to the physician, these professionals ensure that quality patient care is provided by the physician to the patient without delay.

Since quality patient care is synonymous with saving a patient’s life, Medical Laboratory Scientist is indeed a great career – a noble profession tethered with a duty to save lives. They may be working in the shadows, but they have been humbly saving lives in an inconspicuous way.

Works cited – Forsman, Rodney. “Why is the laboratory an afterthought for managed care organizations?” Clinical Chemistry 42.5 (1996): 813-816. Print. Thornton, Kenneth Marques. “Spread the word: Laboratory professionals are vital.” Medical Laboratory Observer 42.11 (2010): 44. Print. Ferdinand Rodriguez, MT, ASCPi