Q. How has the pandemic affected laboratories?
A: The laboratory became more visible early on when testing was our main public health tool, but that support has not been sustained. In the beginning, vendors brought us lunch, coffee, even wine, but that stopped after a few months. Now the spotlight is off, and while many laboratorians prefer this, we still would like support and respect. There are lots of health care professionals beyond doctors and nurses who are vital members of the patient care team.
Many people do not understand how complex, highly regulated, and detail-oriented laboratory work is — it involves concentration, yet it also requires multi-tasking, which is mentally exhausting. Some areas of the lab require wearing full PPE (head to toe) for hours under stressful conditions without breaks. We collect, concentrate, and manipulate pathogens to aid diagnosis as part of the patient care team, but we almost never get the recognition or “thank you” cards from patients and their families.
Laboratorians are not known as “people types” in health care — we are more comfortable behind the scenes with our microscopes, computers, reagents, and instruments. Laboratorians are also not known for advocacy or visibility, so our pay has not kept up with other allied healthcare professionals.