In these COVID-19 pandemic times, there has been an unprecedented demand for testing, coupled with exuberant gratitude for essential workers.

Strangely, the very people who are performing that testing are rarely—if ever—listed with those essential workers.

When you think of working in the medical field, your first thought probably turns to nurses and doctors. But when you go to the doctor’s office or to the ER, and they have you pee in a cup, it goes somewhere for testing. When your blood is drawn, it goes somewhere for testing. When you even have to poop in that hat, it goes somewhere for testing. And when flu season comes around, the swab stuck up your nose goes somewhere for testing.

Enter COVID-19: The swab, the blood tube, the saliva—goes somewhere for testing.

It goes to the clinical laboratory. And in the lab, there are technicians and scientists who not only test your bodily fluids and tissues but also read the results, evaluating each patient’s specimens carefully—knowing that each patient is someone’s mother, someone’s son, someone’s friend. These techs, scientists, and pathologists are often the first to know if a patient isn’t doing well. Indeed, the clinical results a laboratory professional releases are what 70 percent of medical decisions are based on.

We are rarely seen. We stay in the lab, while the “face of the lab” is often the phlebotomist. If you ask us what we do for a living, you’ll probably stare at us blankly, never even having heard of us. And yet we are always there, pulling our long shifts morning and night, putting mind and heart into each patient, only to be mistaken for a nurse, or worse, a “button pusher”—the one who just makes the analyzers run, and reads off the results robotically.

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In truth, educated deduction is key to diagnosis, and lab professionals hold that key, using not just analyzers, but also microscopes, testing strips, and good old clinical science knowledge and experience.

Truly, without the lab, doctors are just guessing.

During this pandemic, the call for more testing has been loud and clear. Clinical lab professionals have answered that call, fighting to get the necessary equipment and working long hours to be efficient with turn-around times.

They are truly the first responders of clinical testing. They are the “behind the scenes.” They are the science behind the medicine.

So next time you hear the call for more testing, or even next time you hear your doctor say, “We are waiting on your lab results,” remember the lab technicians, lab scientists, pathologists, cytologists, and histologists. You may never see their faces, and you may never get to thank them, but they work hard to get you answers, and are dedicated to your health and wellness.

A.W. Cogent

I am a combat veteran's wife and blessed mama to 3 girls, including two toddlers and a bonus teenage daughter; I am also a full time medical lab scientist. My favorite hobby is writing, which is highly influenced by the divergent paths in my life that have, in turn, converged into a beautifully packed journey.