Proficiency – sometimes you are less proficient than you think

I was watching The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest on my computer via Dutch TV and the Internet. The film is in Swedish so naturally there were Dutch subtitles. I think of myself as fluent in Dutch but I noticed quite a difference between a foreign language film with English subtitles and Dutch subtitles. With English subtitles, I read and understand the subtitle in a fraction of a second – it’s so fast that it doesn’t interrupt my watching the action on the screen. With Dutch subtitles, it’s different – although I read the subtitles OK, it takes longer and I’m noticeably going between reading the subtitles and watching the action. I am less proficient in Dutch than I thought.

Quite a few years ago, I learned to ice skate and the next year I started to play hockey. The first time on the ice, someone passed the puck to me but the puck was between my skates and stick. Having watched a lot of hockey on TV – this was the heyday of the Boston Bruins – I knew what to do. I could stick out my foot and let the puck bounce off and capture it with my stick. But my legs wouldn’t move and I wistfully watched as the puck whizzed by. The problem was that although I thought I was a good skater, all of my moves were well planned in advance. To make any move spontaneously was beyond my ability. After playing hockey for a year or two, my skating had improved so I was a proficient skater. Unfortunately, I was never proficient at hockey although this league did include former college players.

A while ago, there was a risk management conference call at CLSI – the call participants were writing a standard on risk management. I don’t remember what prompted me to ask this question but it was about HAMA interferences in hCG assays. To recall, women had been injured by being treated for cancer due to falsely high hCG results due to HAMA interferences. My question was what were lab directors doing to prevent this situation, which was not a onetime problem. In particular, it seemed that diluting the sample could test for these interferences. Two lab directors – both well known – gave the same response; that this is a rare but unavoidable problem. The suggestion to dilute samples was economically infeasible. Now to wave off my suggestion may be appropriate – financial constraints are real; but to say that this issue was unavoidable makes me question the lab directors’ proficiency in risk management. One should look for other solutions.

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