I have reached the age when I know that I have fewer years of professional activity ahead of me than behind me. When retirement questions assume more of an urgent, immediate consideration. When financial realities can be anticipated to have a significant impact in my setting "involvement" priorities, in anything. Even as a Past President of ASCLS, there are still moments of wondering "Is this the request to which I will say 'no?'" Am I reaching the point where I can legitimately shut down and leave the future to those coming after me?
As I travel this country and meet my medical laboratory colleagues, this certainly seems to be a most prevalent attitude, sometimes phrased as "I've done my part. Let "them" take over. It's not my job anymore." What does such thinking say about us? And about our profession as a life-long career?
Olympics, NASA, Detroit
It was truly inspirational to watch all of the events of the summer 2012 Olympics, and I shared the excitement shown by the NASA researchers when the Rover Curiosity landed on Martian surface. One of the aspects of both televised events that struck me, however, was the predominance of "senior" scientists and coaches, reveling in the successes of their much younger coworkers and protégés. In so many fields of endeavor, it is desired and expected that the experience, enthusiasm and determination of one generation helps to fuel those same attitudes in the next generation. The concept of "passing on the torch" is a very relevant one. The torch symbolizes all that is central to the activity at hand: the athletic skill, the scientific quest, and, I would like to propose, the care of our patients.
Imagine Bela Karolyi saying to his decades-younger gymnastic Olympic wannabes: "I've done this enough. Go learn it on your own now." There is something very precious about the storehouse of knowledge and those tidbits you only get from having been around for awhile. Expecting the next generation to learn it all over again by default just does not seem efficient to me. I have always advocated the idea of "do not re-invent the wheel." Washing our hands of everything to do with medical laboratory science once we retire threatens a huge brain drain in this country.
I love the example of Glenda Price, retired president of Marygrove College in Detroit, MI, who has maintained her connections to her core profession: "It is the education and work as a laboratory professional that prepares you to move on to other roles. I always identify myself as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist. That is my profession. Being a college president was my job. However, my skills of working with others, organization, multi-tasking, understanding large systems, functioning within a power structure, etc. were skills that I developed in the laboratory.
Those who do not recognize that are missing an important appreciation for how they got where they are. I would challenge everyone to share their knowledge and not be afraid of letting the other members of the healthcare team as well as the public know how important they are. I am pleased that I am still invited to speak at state meetings and I have an opportunity to share my perspective on leadership and a host of other general topics. Perhaps the society could find ways to take advantage of those of us who have retired and are not otherwise engaged" (Price, Glenda. ASCLS Today, 23(1), 2009, pages 9-10). State societies, take note!
The Balancing Act
Accomplishing this joy of retirement while dealing with the realities of what one is leaving behind, figuratively and literally, is a balancing act. I suggest some reflective questions of those of us close to or at retirement age, as well as those younger colleagues who are already holding that passed torch or will very soon.
"Let the younger ones get involved." Are you retirees doing anything to mentor, provide an historical perspective without squashing creative new (or even rehashed "old") approaches to professional issues? Are you younger colleagues seeking out such mentorship, welcoming such insights, and even encouraging them despite attitudes of "been there, done that?"
"Now that I am retired, I am too busy." As in your active working-for-a-wage days, those things that are most important to you will eventually take priority. Will you abdicate any responsibility to continue the legacy you yourself worked so hard to build? Are you not concerned about who is doing your lab tests? Such a concern, I would think, would only heighten with the prospect of untrained, uncertified, unlicensed individuals being allowed to work in a clinical lab. Where is your voice as a consumer of those lab tests? As an advocate for patient safety?
"I've been president of my state society three times already. Let someone else do it now that I am no longer working in the field." Maintaining the connection with our community (and I would even say "family") of professional colleagues is essential to ensure the future of this wonderful profession. During my final year as a presidential officer in ASCLS, I gave a seminar to outgoing presidents of the state societies within ASCLS. I had them give me words that made up the letters of "president" that would characterize that experience. Some submitted were: Provide a service, Relationship, Exhausting, Solicit input, Involve others, Daunting, Experience of a lifetime, Needed to know when to ask for help, Time well spent. It certainly sounds like phrasing that acknowledges both the responsibility of being a leader as well as the fulfillment of service. I propose that if this connection continues, there is so much more to be gained than lost by both the retiree and the rest of the "family."
"I'm on a fixed income and can't pay my professional society membership dues." No excuse! I am a firm advocate for ASCLS membership for all laboratory professionals. The things that make up a retiree's budget may not be able to include flying to annual meetings, but they can definitely spare the 27.4¢/day needed to continue to have a voice and a vote on all things related to medical lab science. At least for me, that is one part of my budget that will never go away until the day I die!
Mary Ann McLane is professor, Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE; and ASCLS president 2009-10; ASCLS-DE president 2012-13.