Tracing our roots: early clinical laboratory scientists and their work--myth and reality

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Clinical laboratory science : journal of the American Society for Medical Technology

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OBJECTIVE: To describe the 'real' and 'ideal' clinical laboratory scientist according to the perceptions of pathologists, clinical laboratory scientists, and the public during the early years of the profession (1918 to 1942). DESIGN: A survey of literature on the history of clinical laboratory science was conducted. References consulted include various books and professional journals. CONCLUSION: As early as 1920, young women learned, through career guides, that they were particularly well-suited for performing laboratory work because they possessed a unique set of attributes which were considered to be desirable qualities in a clinical laboratory scientist. In addition, magazine articles published in the popular press in the 1930s and 1940s romanticized laboratory technicians. Although later articles did present a more realistic description of the work of the laboratory technician, they continued to portray the occupation in idealistic terms. Pathologists and laboratory technicians also described the ideal laboratory technician in professional journals, citing those qualities that were essential or especially desirable in a competent laboratory technician. The relationship between the clinical pathologists and the laboratory technician was described as one of mutual interdependence and integration of responsibilities. In reality, pathologists maintained strict supervision and control over the work of laboratory technicians. The 'real' laboratory technician differed markedly from the 'ideal' prototype created by the public, pathologists, and by laboratory technicians, themselves.

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