By - February 09, 2022
This article is part of a series spotlighting Black leaders in pathology and laboratory medicine.
Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS(ASCP)CM, is the Executive Director of Pathology and Laboratory Services at a large health system in San Antonio, TX, and a member of ASCP’s Council of Laboratory Professionals (CLP) committee and ASCP mentor. She co-hosts the weekly podcast, eLABorate Topics, and here, shares with Critical Values thoughts and insight on diversity in laboratory leadership, what inspired her to become a laboratory professional, and more
Why is diversity in leadership critical to the success of a laboratory?
Diversity and Inclusion are different concepts but both are equally important in having a successful laboratory operations and team. Having a diverse team (in terms of representation of different ages, levels of experience, genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations and/or identities) can help add strength and depth to your operations. In addition, an environment that is not only diverse but also inclusive, where the perspectives of different groups are valued and can help influence decisions, adds overall value to any organization. So much research shows a strong relationship between a diverse and inclusive working environment and the benefits to an employee’s retention and well-being. At a time where the recruitment pool in our field is already very low and the burnout from those working in the industry is high, creating an environment where staff feel comfortable bringing their “whole self” to work is important.
What are some of the systemic healthcare challenges that affect Black people, and what role can the laboratory play in addressing them?
Some African Americans are at the same risk of limited healthcare access as others that may reside in underserved and vulnerable communities. Many of the issues that have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic have only amplified these issues. The laboratory can play a role in helping overcome these challenges through partnerships that push community education and awareness. In addition, being culturally competent and aware as laboratory professionals, also, is a powerful tool to help all lab professionals understand (and be sensitive to) the needs of other cultures.
ASCP members want to work to create more inclusive workplaces. In your experience, what characterizes a workplace and working community where you feel a sense of belonging and empowerment, where you can do your best work, thrive, and feel welcomed and valued? When have you had Directors and Colleagues who encouraged you to excel and lead? How did they foster this?
When I think about diversity in the laboratory from the standpoint of creating an inclusive culture within your team, I think diverse teams are more likely to achieve “outside the box” thinking on innovative ideas regarding LEAN or process improvements. When leaders are able to engage the differences of their staff to help drive input, solutions that are more creative can emerge while problem solving. Diversity creates opportunities for everyone to learn from others and grow from those experiences. For example, if your team is diverse in years of experience, the more tenured CLS staff may have a better understanding of the science behind a process or the “why” behind a procedure but, the newer CLS staff may have better ideas on IT solutions (such as ideas on how to automate or make reports electronic).
How did you learn about Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and what do you enjoy the most about working in this field? What do you hope to leave as a legacy from your professional life?
From a very early age, I knew that I wanted to work in the field of science and technology. My passion for both, coupled with the compassion to help others, compelled me to look for opportunities within healthcare. As I investigated career options, laboratory medicine was a natural fit. In college, while others viewed a Clinical Laboratory Science degree as rather peculiar, I loved attending classes and learning about the cellular functions of the body. I’ve been in this career for fifteen years without regret.
I hope to leave a legacy of a person that was passionate about not only healthcare but about the team doing the work “behind the scenes”. I hope that I can leave a legacy of education and advocacy and hopefully be an inspiration to others (particularly those that look like me).
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Read more Q&As here.
Executive Director of Pathology and Laboratory Services