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From the Editor's Desk

What do all these organizations have in common?

by Dennis Ernst • June 07, 2019

Editor's Desk

Dennis Ernst Casual portrait


Question: What do all these organizations have in common:

  • Burlington Liar's Club
  • Sigma Chi Fraternity
  • Professional Photographers of America
  • Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute
  • Southern Indiana Writers
  • Harrison County Preppers
  • The Jet Club

Answer: they all allowed me to be a member.

Actually, the last three had to accept me because I was one of the founders. Of the remaining, the least prestigious is probably the Burlington Liar's Club. They'll accept anyone who can tell even the tiniest white lie. The Sigma Chi Fraternity is probably the one that had the greatest impact on my life, and still does today, because of the lifelong friendships that rose from my four years as an active member of the Alpha Pi Chapter at Albion College. Receiving the Significant Sig award earlier this year from the national fraternity for my professional accomplishments certainly secures my perpetual endearment to the organization whose Three Great Aims have become my own: friendship, justice and learning.

I was only a member of the Professional Photographers of America for three years, back when I was working on the side as a freelance portrait and nature photographer. Fueled by a couple Best-of-Show awards at juried art fairs, I almost abandoned the laboratory profession in the 1980s to pursue a photography career. But I realized if I were to make it big as a nature photographer I'd have to travel far and frequently to capture the full bounty of nature's beauty. As a single dad with two precious children around whom my world revolved, it wasn't time. But one of my PPA membership benefits was this really cool pocket calendar, so my membership dues weren't completely wasted.

The one organization with whom I have been involved longer than any other, though, is CLSI. It's also the most dynamic, fulfilling, appreciative and impactful on a global scale. As the phlebotomy instructor at the University of Louisville School of Allied Health in the 1990s, H3-A3 (aka the venipuncture standard) was my go-to document for developing course materials. My first encounter with the face of the organization was in 1999, right after the standard was revised.

PACE certificate from NCCLS

I received a mailer from NCCLS (their former acronym) announcing a conference in Raleigh, North Carolina on the new standard. Though I was dirt-poor at the time, wild horses couldn't have held me back. I hopped into my old beat-up truck and drove 12 hours to Raleigh the day before the event. I just had to see what this organization was like, and to be among those who revised the standard that had become my bible.
After the event, I went up to meet the presenters, all committee members who crafted the standard upon which my curriculum would be based. Roger Calam, Ray Olesinski and Joan Wiseman were the pillars of my profession, as legendary in phlebotomy as Ansel Adams, Matthew Brady, and Dorothea Lange were to photography. I felt I was standing amidst giants. I was full of questions and they were full of answers. Out of respect for their time, I cut it short and thanked them for such a great event.
"Why don't you join us for dinner?" Dr. Calam asked.

I just about fell to the floor. I was a nobody, a measly little lab rat who would have been satisfied with the crumbs that fell from their table. But an hour later there I was, dining with giants of the industry. From that moment on, I knew I had to be involved with the organization, and that standard in particular.

I never forgot how it felt to be so readily welcomed into their circle. As my interactions with NCCLS became more frequent, I came to learn that welcoming newcomers is in their DNA. It's part of their culture. I've never known any organization to be so genuinely welcoming and sincerely hospitable. Not even the Jet Club. (That's because my two brothers and I started it in a shed in our back yard one day when we were kids. Girls were not allowed.)

Since that first introduction to the face of what is now CLSI, I've been involved on 11 volunteer committees writing various preanalytic (preexamination) standards and guidelines, chairing six of them. This is my 4th year as a member of CLSI's Consensus Council (the consensus body responsible for managing the development of all CLSI consensus documents and products), and my second year as its Chairholder. I say this not to boast. In fact, all this talk about my accomplishments makes me quite uncomfortable. My whole point of this is to show you how one act of kindness can change a person's entire trajectory in life, and certainly within his/her profession.

Consider this my attempt to change yours.

Earlier this month, CLSI issued a "Call for Volunteers." I am extending their invitation to become my invitation to you personally. Being a CLSI volunteer has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences in my life. I want that for you. The staff and leadership are likely to be the most dynamic, dedicated and appreciative people you will ever meet. I want you to know them. Being involved on CLSI committees will put you in the midst of giants. I want you to become one of them.
If you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, if you need to feel like you're making a difference in patient care on a global scale, if you want to surround yourself with people who share your passion, expertise and ambition, answer the call. Become a volunteer. You will meet people who exemplify all that is good with our industry. People with whom you can connect professionally in ways and to a degree you could not otherwise connect. People who want laboratory practices to improve on a grand scale. People like you.

There are openings on CLSI's Awards, Finance, and Nominating Committees. Committee members are also being sought for the Consensus Council and at least two document revisions. If none of these call to you, committees within your area of expertise form on an ongoing basis, so make sure you're put on the list for notifications by joining CLSI today. If your facility is already a member, ask to be included in their communications or join as an individual.
I'm not asking you on behalf of CLSI. My appeal to you is sincere and from the heart. I just know what it can to for you personally and professionally.

Like me, you've probably joined a lot of organizations in your life. Some good, some bad. Some with great pocket calendars, others with schwag that goes right into the trash. Trust me when I tell you being a volunteer on industry standards and guidelines can give your career new meaning and may even change your trajectory. That's no lie; I know this first-hand.
Besides, I left the Burlington Liar's Club a long time ago.



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