TESTING, TESTING, 1-2-3
Words by Barbara Hurley / Photograph by John Emerson
JAMES R. ADAMS HAS A VISION FOR HIS PROFESSION — clinical laboratory science – that goes far beyond the 11 to 7 “midnight” shift he works at Somerset Medical Center. He is determined to give not only a voice, but a face to those he believes are often “invisible.”
“After all,” he explains, “medical laboratory scientists are responsible for conducting the tests that provide more than 70 percent of the information doctors need to make a diagnosis. But we don’t see patients, so they don’t know how important we are as members of the healthcare team.”
This isn’t just talk; Adams is doing something about it. In fact, he chose the midnight shift so his days would be free for other things.
First, he has given voice to his profession as president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Scientists (ASCLS). The organization includes medical laboratory scientists, managers, educators and students among its more than 200 members. He has been a member for almost seven years, chairing the committee that produced its newsletter and garnering awards in the process. He recognized the potential of an organization where professionals could speak with one voice, and so he began attending board meetings. When he saw a vacancy on the board, he went after the position and eventually his leadership and determination put him on the path to the presidency.
The ASCLS also puts a face on the profession through annual trips to Capital Hill to lobby on issues of importance to its members, and Adams has been supportive. Most recently the organization opposed a change in the co-pay for laboratory tests that Medicare patients would pay, fearing that this would discourage some from getting necessary tests.
Then in 2008, his ASCLS leadership position paid another
dividend. Adams was invited to join People to People, an
Eisenhower-era program that expanded the notion of cultural
exchange to include professional interaction as well. Delegations
from different professions — nurses, teachers, lawyers — meet their
counterparts in different countries to share similarities and discover
differences. Participants pay their own way for these 10-day explorations
of the cultural and professional environments. Adams has
been a member of the Clinical Laboratory Science delegation to
Russia, China, Egypt and, most recently, South Africa.
|JAMES R. ADAMS, MSHS, MLS|
He learned that in South Africa, and in China, medical laboratory scientists must be licensed. In the U.S. only 15 states require licensing; New Jersey is not among them. “I think licensing is good for the profession. Here you need a license to cut hair, but not to work in a laboratory that will provide vital information that a doctor needs to make a decision about a patient,” Adams says. “I’m not knocking barbers,” he adds with a laugh.
If you haven’t already guessed that Adams loves to travel almost as much as he loves his profession, the latest addition to his resume should be the final clue. This year he became a Global Consultant for the American Society for Clinical Pathology, based in Chicago. He is now prepared to assess, train and evaluate laboratories in Africa in the area of hematology. He is looking forward to his first assignment through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). An American initiative to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, PEPFAR has devoted billions to treating HIV-infected people in resource-limited areas, mainly Africa. He is extremely proud to be part of this effort.
Adams’ path around the world began at Piscataway High School, where his solid student career earned him a full scholarship to Caldwell College and a degree in biology, magna cum laude in 2004. “Science always came easy,” he explains, “And some of my most enjoyable hours were spent in the laboratory.”
However, one of the most significant encounters of his college career was outside the lab. Adams met a representative from UMDNJ’s School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) at a career fair, went away with a brochure about the clinical laboratory science program at the school, and set out to become a laboratory science professional. “It just felt like the right fit,” he remembers. “And the job prospects were good.”
At SHRP, Adams earned a second bachelor’s degree, in clinical laboratory science, in 2005, summa cum laude.He continued to complete a Master’s degree, mainly online, and received a Master of Science in Health Sciences in September 2010. “You don’t absolutely have to get a Master’s to enter the profession,” Adams notes. “But since you can often substitute education for experience, a Master’s puts you on the fast track for greater opportunities.” A bachelor’s degree is the necessary credential for entry into the profession and separates the medical laboratory scientist from the technician.
“Students in my UMDNJ program had jobs lined up before they graduated,” Adams remembers, “and you can’t say that for many college grads today. There’s great demand, steady work and solid salaries.” The Coordinating Council on the Clinical Laboratory Workforce estimates that 40 percent of the current workforce will retire in the next 10 years, creating a dire shortage of professionals at a time when an aging population will require a greater level of service.
Adams has been a medical laboratory scientist at Somerset Medical Center for more than six years. Some medical laboratory scientists may work in only one discipline, but Adams is a generalist. “I get to work with all the departments,” he says. “I like the variety and the fast pace.”
For those considering a career as a medical laboratory scientist, Adams recommends a strong background in science and math, the ability to prioritize what is critical in the busy lab environment, an ability to multi-task and maybe a strong stomach. “We often get chunks of tissue or bone from the OR to grind down for microbiology testing,” he explains. “A few months ago I even got a whole fingertip.
“Oh, and I should include,” he adds, “an aptitude for problem-solving.” For, as Adams sees it, the medical laboratory scientist “provides a big piece of the puzzle” that comes together as an on-the-target diagnosis.