The job of a laboratory professional is highly demanding, giving no quarter in terms of time or place. No matter where we are or when it is, technology has enabled constant access and connectivity. The 24/7/365 nature of the laboratory makes it more likely than not that we will be in contact with our workplace when away from work. In this context, why would someone choose to do more work?
Why Get Involved?
Engaging in institutional or professional organizations offers a number of tangible and intangible benefits. In terms of tangible benefits, most career laboratory professionals must in some way demonstrate their involvement outside of their day-to-day duties. This might be as simple as some external committee involvement or as much as a formal track record of local, national, and international service in the case of academia. In short, service to professional and institutional committees is a requirement for ongoing employment, promotion, and tenure. However required, this reality doesn’t capture the true benefits of professional service. CV aside, some of the most rewarding aspects of a career in laboratory medicine are found outside of the routine service, support, and technical responsibilities. Professional service rewards include networking with other colleagues, changing practices through involvement in guidelines or standards committees, and achieving a better understanding of the system in which one must thrive. In this way, professional service is rewarding in and of itself; a by-product of service is a series of lines on a CV that reflect active engagement in the profession. The field of laboratory medicine uniquely necessitates and supports professional activities. Clinical laboratorians are generally less competitive for funding than basic researchers, highly collaborative in efforts towards standardization, and ever aware of the general lack of public awareness of the profession. From a broad perspective, professional involvement is simply common sense.
How to Get Involved
If you are now convinced that it is worth getting involved, the next question is how to get started. Depending on the environment in which you work, some places have a culture of service. In this culture, it is expected that you will be involved and it is probable that opportunities will be offered directly (e.g. “how would you like to serve as such and such on the XYZ committee?”). Absent that culture, involvement may simply be a matter of offering to help on a committee/group/organization that interests you. Few groups have an excess of people willing to help, so it is highly probable that a simple offer will be accepted. On the groups I’ve worked with over the past few years, if there wasn’t an immediate opening we’d often record and share the names of the interested individuals to provide the opportunity to serve either later on or suggest them to other groups looking for help. Approaching a group that you’re interested in working with can be as straightforward as an e-mail or phone call to the committee chair. Alternatively, one could use any contacts/mentors they might know to express an interest in the organization. Most organizations have some official website and administrative support, so at the least one could contact the group directly through the website. When making contact it would be most productive to understand what the group does and how you would like to contribute. One should also have an idea of how much time they are willing to commit to a group and what they bring to the table. In the case of those early in their career, it makes more sense to take on a junior role or even ask to be an observer to understand how the group operates with an eye towards a more significant role down the road.
How Not to Get Involved
Initial service experience represents a first impression in your professional society or institution. When taken with enthusiasm and competency, effective service usually leads to additional opportunities; conversely if that first impression is not positive, it does not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce the consequences. If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to either completely commit to serve a committee/group/organization or don’t bother. Committee Chairs would rather hear “I don’t have enough time and can’t commit” rather than experience a volunteer’s tacit failure to contribute. Given that the laboratory profession is a small world, knowledge of active service participants tends to spread. Consider that all of the elected members of the NACB and AACC boards have a strong history of successful service on numerous groups before even having the chance to stand for election.
Ultimately, professional service can amplify your influence, enabling a much greater impact than could ever be achieved alone. As with many things in life, in your career, you get out of it what you put into it.
List of different institution and professional opportunities:
- Division/Departmental Committees
- Establish New Committees/Organizations/Groups
- Hospital Committees
- University Committees
- Non-institutional Committees (Hospital Boards, Community Outreach)
- International Organizations (AACC, IFCC)
- Local Organizations (State, Region, Provincial Orgs)
- AACC Divisions
- Working Groups
- Standards/Guideline Development Groups/Orgs
- Regulatory Agency Committees
- Industry Advisory Groups
- Fellowship/Certification Boards (ABCC, NACB)