CSMLS brings medical technologists out of the lab

Facing shortages, testing backlogs and the spectre of funding cuts, the national body looks beyond COVID-19 to boost support.
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The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science is looking beyond its members work trying to keep up with thousands of COVID-19 tests every day, hoping that a clearer understanding of the role lab professionals play in the healthcare system will ensure they get the funding and support they need.

Among the backlog of tests and lab staff shortages, COVID-19 is just one of 1.2 million tests that are overseen by approximately 14,500 lab professionals of the CSMLS on a daily basis. To capture the breadth of work these behind-the-scenes medical professionals conduct, the CSMLS created an indigo-coloured lab coat, listing in microscopic text the names of the 1.2 million lab tests done daily across Canada, which include COVID-19 but also the hemoglobin A1C test for diabetes or searching for a BRCA gene for breast cancer. The lab coat is highlighted in a spot by Arrivals + Departures showing three lab professionals trying on the coat, which also signals their importance alongside other lab coat-wearing professionals in healthcare.

One of the things the CSMLS wanted to get across was that the public can trust the lab information that they receive, whether it’s blood work or a nasalpharyngeal swab for COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of conversations about false positives and false negatives that are happening right now in the public domain,” says Christine Nielsen, CEO of the CSMLS. “We wanted to make sure that people understand that there’s a great qualified team, that have met very high standards for both academic training as well as hands-on training, and that they can trust the information.”

Nielsen says her members aren’t facing issues of public trust, however. The campaign has more to do with the public understanding who qualified medical professionals are as a way to address the biggest challenge it is facing.

“We’re currently facing a shortage,” Nielsen says. “So it’s really important that we’re making sure that our members are in place for the future health of Canadians.” Shortages of lab professionals and a backlog of COVID-19 tests prompted the Michener Institute of Education at the University Health Network to roll out a program last week to train more medical lab workers, as more than 26,500 COVID-19 tests remain unprocessed. However, in Alberta, the provincial government announced it would be cutting up to 11,000 jobs in health services, the majority of which will come in areas like laboratories, food service and housekeeping. These cuts could also happen in other provinces that are looking to manage costs that have mounted during the pandemic.

“If the general public doesn’t understand who we are, many people in government who work on policy, that could do things like increase the number of enrollments, they’re also in the dark about the importance of this profession,” Nielsen says. “It really isn’t that we had bad PR – it’s that we didn’t have any. Many people think of nurses as the ones doing lab testing, they might think that there’s other people who are looking after our specimens.”

The campaign has OOH and paid social, handled by Guru Media and targeted to Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax, with ads appearing near hospitals in those markets.