So you have done all the hard work. You have studied for years, completed many papers and possibly even passed your national certification exam. Since you are in the high-demand field of medical laboratory science, you are probably among the lucky few who have managed to land a respected job in this down economy. Congratulations!
But, if you are like many people, and like I was many years ago as a new graduate, you are probably caught like a deer in the headlights. You are possibly asking a million questions and fighting off doubt and insecurity. How does one navigate the workplace? More importantly, what can you do to ease the transition to becoming a valued and accepted member of the work team?
On day 1 you are likely to feel very intellectually unprepared to be a fully practicing clinical laboratorian. I can recall feeling almost like a fraud. I was certified, but would I be able to carry my weight and turn out valid results?
There was the nagging fear that every physician was waiting on my result to execute some pivotal action. If I messed up in some way, someone could suffer irreparable harm. Then there might be the abject humiliation and embarrassment when it became known the "new guy" messed up.
Disabuse yourself of the notion that you know nothing; the feeling is natural. Chances are you are more theoretically adept and current than the personnel you will be working beside. On the other hand, refrain from appearing like a know it all. Do not constantly question or challenge the clinical knowledge of more seasoned staff.
The very first suggestion is to make sure you come armed with pen and paper--or an electronic tablet. You will be getting lots of information and instructions, some confusing, some contradictory, and you will need to write it all down. At the end of each day, read your notes over to ensure they make sense and be ready to seek clarification if necessary at your earliest opportunity.
Many organizations have a general new employee orientation which is designed to introduce the employee to the organization and give a sense of mission, vision and culture. This is a broad, high-level view of the landscape. Very likely hospital management and key staff will come by to deliver a little spiel.
Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and to introduce yourself to everyone. Many of the best friends I have had at work and the key relationships I developed were formed at orientation. If you introduce yourself to the director of quality management or infection control practitioner or the COO, for example, they most likely will remember you the very first time you need their help.
Next, you will have a laboratory orientation. Come armed with your own questions and make sure they are answered. Ask about the reporting structure, dress code, breaks and even the annual evaluation process. Have your own checklist of items you want covered. Make sure you feel comfortable before you leave the orientation phase, even if it is longer than the period suggested by management.
Studies show that more employees leave a new employer because they feel thrown to the wolves without proper orientation, than for any other reason. You will be doing yourself an injustice by skimping on orientation to your job.
Express any interest you might have in serving on committees, seeking additional training, offering in-services, or even volunteering for extra shifts when you are ready. First impressions are very lasting and you want to appear as an eager, enthusiastic, engaged team player.
Whether you have been assigned a formal mentor or not, select one--or more. Most professionals are flattered to be considered a role model and mentor. It might take a few days or even weeks to discern who has the expertise, time and willingness to mentor you.
That person needs not be someone in a supervisory position either. Of course you may also, and most likely will, have several mentors for different aspects of your onboarding.
One individual might help you navigate the environment and introduce you to key individuals, while another might become your guru on identifying abnormal cells, and yet another might be simply great at making you feel welcome. Take advantage of all those assets--and you do not have to choose just one either. Think of it as having your own "team" to advise, guide, teach and encourage you as needed.
It is often difficult to keep up with email, but increasingly the workplace sends out invitations and directions by email. Check your email daily to ensure you are not missing some vital information or a directive to do something--such as attending a mandatory meeting, providing needed documentation or completing required training by a deadline.
This is an invaluable habit to cultivate in today's workplace. Not reading your email is never an acceptable excuse for not following a directive.
Your most essential job as a new employee is to learn as much as you can. Your formal trainers, laboratory management and your mentors will help in this regard. But you must do your part. As you learn, offer to go the extra mile. The more eager you appear to learn and go beyond the bare minimum required, the more you will benefit and the more valuable you will be to the organization.
Stay in the Race
There will be naysayers. Be prepared for them. We have an aging workforce and many baby boomers have worked long and hard, without much recognition, and are ambling toward retirement. Don't be surprised if you end up working with someone who is less than cheery. More than one person will likely express the opinion that MLS is not a very desirable profession. They will steer you towards medicine or some other career where "the pay is better, advancement is great and there is lots of recognition."
However, if you remember why you were attracted to medical laboratory science in the first place: a love of science, a desire to serve, hoping to make a difference in someone's life, then realize you have made the right choice. Just because a tired runner tells you to drop out of the race is no reason for you to do so.
Finally, realize that your professional career path is yours to create. As someone who is fresh, smart and eager you have the ability to mold your future and the future of the profession. Remember those days daydreaming about walking among your colleagues in a crisp white coat, making critical decisions and being valued for your work. Well, that is possible. It is up to you make it a reality.
The workplace might seem like slippery ice or an obstacle course, but if you just follow a few principles and practices, you will land firmly on your feet. Good luck.
Glen McDaniel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a healthcare consultant, clinical lab scientist, speaker and freelance writer. His interests include mediation, leadership, change and ethics.