Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski recently made national news when she announced her retirement from the United States Senate after thirty years of service.
Senator Mikulski – the longest serving woman in the history of Congress, as well as the first Democratic woman to be elected to the Senate in her own right – has built a reputation as a trailblazer during her years in Congress. Often overlooked among her many accomplishments is the personal role she played in crafting the federal regulatory regime establishing quality standards in clinical laboratories.
In 1988, Mikulski was a freshman senator. She encountered a constituent whose wife succumbed to cervical cancer. The constituent reported that the initial Pap smear test yielded an erroneous result. By the time a second test was performed, the cancer had advanced to the point that it was beyond treatment.
Moved by this story, Senator Mikulski immediately began exploring legislative solutions. She joined forces with one of her GOP colleagues, and together they introduced the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). Senator Mikulski later explained that the goal of the legislation was to achieve a lasting culture of “safety and accuracy” in clinical laboratories. She also described CLIA as an example of “regulation without strangulation.”
CLIA was passed by a Democratic Congress, and signed into law by Republican President Ronald Reagan. According to Senator Mikulski, 35 percent of all clinical laboratories experienced quality issues before CLIA’s enactment. After CLIA became law, that number dropped to five percent.
In 2013, CLIA achieved its 25th anniversary, and Senator Mikulski visited a meeting of the COLA Board of Directors to accept the organization’s Perry A. Lambird Award. The award acknowledges individuals who have made significant contributions in the field of laboratory medicine.
During her acceptance remarks, Senator Mikulski stated that she herself considered a career in laboratory medicine after having seen a movie about Marie Curie. She later decided that a career in science was not a good fit for her, opting for public service instead. This worked out well for all concerned, as it gave her the opportunity to make a contribution to laboratory medicine that she could not have made from the bench.
Watch Senator Mikulski’s remarks here: