Noted Author lauds the quiet professionals working in the world’s laboratories
Seldom do laboratory professionals get the recognition they deserve each day for their role in protecting the public health from spread of disease. Now, with the specter of an influenza pandemic hanging over the world, CNN Contributor Bob Greene suggests it is time to pay homage to what he describes as our unsung “heroes in lab coats.”
Writing yesterday in a commentary on the CNN Web site, Greene observed “Right now, as the eventual path of the swine flu emergency remains uncertain, the world is beginning to turn its pleading eyes in the direction of men and women whose names and faces we don’t even know. The wider world seldom gives them a thought until suddenly we realize that we need them.”
In his commentary “Heroes in Lab Coats,” Greene stated, “They are the men and women, who, wearing lab coats in medical and scientific facilities, are working-as they do every day-toward the conquest of disease. The wider world seldom gives them a thought until suddenly we realize we need them. Until abruptly, in the midst of our constant cultural obeisance to flashiness and surface glamour, we are forced to recognize:
“We need help. Sickness is upon us and there are conflicting reports on its potential severity,” continued Greene, “…Times like these don’t come along very often. When they do, it is probably a good idea to pause and reflect upon the quiet work done every day by those men and women in the laboratories.”
Green pointed out how society constantly follows the celebrity of the moment, while people doing jobs that really matter go unnoticed until we really need them. Even then, when that moment of danger passes, these quiet heroes then fall back into obscurity.
Using the examples of Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, both of whom became famous by developing polio vaccines, he notes that these men gained celebrity status for conquering a disease that was crippling children around the world. But by the time they were old, they were held in less esteem than an average NBA forward or make-believe cop on primetime television. Both Salk and Sabin could walk through any airport in the nation without being recognized.
“Jonas Salk died in 1995 at the age of 80; Albert Sabin died in 1993 at the age of 86. But right now,” declared Greene, “there are men and women at work in laboratories, men and women whose names we do not know yet. Suddenly [because of the A/H1N1 influenza virus], we are depending on them.
“But talk about the definition of heroism,” Greene said. “Times like these don’t come along very often. When they do, it is probably a good idea to pause and reflect upon the quiet work done every day by those men and women in the laboratories.”
“Heroes in lab coats” is an apt description for all laboratory professionals, whether in research settings or clinical laboratories. They are the dedicated individuals who provide the diagnostic knowledge to help physicians recognize disease and determine which treatment will be most effective for their patients. Across the globe, untold numbers of phlebotomists and couriers collect and deliver specimens to laboratories, where medical technologists, laboratory scientists, and pathologists perform diagnostic tests.
As this current outbreak of a new influenza virus moves across the world, laboratory professionals are once again quietly stepping up to the challenge. Some are working to develop faster, more accurate tests to detect the new influenza virus. Others are in public health agencies and laboratories, gathering the data needed by health officials to understand and control the outbreak. Many more are in clinical laboratories, providing the first line of diagnostic tests that help clinicians make an accurate and timely diagnosis.
All of these are the quiet “heroes in lab coats” recognized by Bob Greene in his timely commentary on the CNN Web site.