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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Upcoming 'Enduring a Workforce Shortage' Webinar Gets People Talking

Published June 1, 2012 9:45 AM by Valerie Newitt

When we listed our free July 24 webinar "Enduring a Workforce Shortage,"  little did we know that the announcement would stir so much commentary from readers.

Bryan Helzer, a medical laboratory scientist at New York Presbyterian Hospital- Columbia Univeristy in New York City, was the first to stir the pot by asking, "How can people say there is a severe workforce shortage of lab techs when the BLS only projects 11% growth in the next ten years. By the way, 11 percent is classified as average or below."

Amy Gatautis,  program director at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH, weighed in,  "Bryan, the BLS statistics for 11 percent growth, is only just that: growth. It does not take into account openings due to attrition (retirements, resignations etc), so if you consider vacancies due these, the shortage is surely to be about 40 percent. One large institution in this area alone has >40 percent of its staff at age 55 and above, so expected retirements may have a huge impact. The impact will also have differing impacts depending on your region. We train our MLT's to do the exact work of an MT. The only real difference is the college coursework required for a BS degree (includes) more electives, a micro course, statistics, and few more chemistries.

Debbie Sanders, MT, from  Memphis (TN) Regional Medical Center, brought her own view on staffing to the discussion. "I really feel something needs to be done to ‘grandfather in' MLTs that have been in the field for an extended period of time. I have been in this field for 18+ years and now I'm expected to return to school? Long ago, they grandfathered in lab techs with no formal training as MLTs. With the way things are now, I am training MTs right out of school to do jobs that were not offered to me because I am an MLT. Some of us just get tired of it and quit. Shouldn't we be given this to encourage us to stay in the lab?"

Elizabeth Lord, a lab tech with Entegrion RTP in North Carolina commented, "I, too, am an MLT with over 25 years in clinical and biotech experience. Since I was Navy trained, I have experience running a blood bank and microbiology departments but as an MLT, I find it hard to place in a clinical lab in a first shift position. Duke is offering to pay for MLTs to obtain their CLS degree through Winston-Salem State University as a distance learner. I tried that option but left Duke due to a lack of first shift positions. I agree that grandfathering MLTs with over 15 years experience or offering to pay tuition for MLTs to attend CLS programs will help to fulfill the needs. 

She posed tough questions, "Why don't you get MTs in the positions anymore? It's a heavy college program without much financial benefit at the end. There are low glass ceilings in the field and even lateral moves are, let's face it, boring. I prefer to work in Biotech where there are perpetual innovations and the ability to expand one's abilities abound. Question: with the advent of instrumentation, is it really necessary to have so many MTs in the clinical lab?"

Cynthia Tolman, vice president,  ADMA Bio Centers in Norcross, GA, took issue with the idea of grandfathering. She responded, "I do not agree with grandfathering. This implies handing out a degree in exchange for years of experience. It sets a bad precedent. Would we grandfather a nurse to a doctor, or a legal assistant to a lawyer? However, I do agree that there should be an avenue to achieve the MT status if a person is an MLT. This would be similar to the MT achieving an SBB or the LPN advancing to RN status. It would require additional education, but perhaps not additional hands-on lab time, depending on the specialty.
"I also disagree that MTs are limited to low pay. Yes, if you stay in the hospital or lab running tests every day, then your pay will be limited. But there are so many avenues to pursue as an MT that I find the fatalistic attitude disconcerting. After my MT, I pursued a master's in healthcare administration. This allowed me to advance quickly within the lab and also allowed me to move to a biotech company where I eventually became the president of a $52 million division. Trust me -- I am not smarter than most MTs, but I was diligent. Other opportunities for MTs include moving into the quality assurance field (very hot right now!). Another opportunity is found in the regulatory field. I work with ex-FDA inspectors and they are very sought after. I would recommend that anyone spend five years with the FDA and then enter the consulting arena.

"Primary message: Do not limit yourself and do not let others tell you your limitations!"

Well said.

Add your own thoughts to the topic and be sure to register for the free webinar on July 24 to delve deeper into what the impending shortage will mean to you and your facility. During the webinar, Jon Harol, a laboratory recruitment specialist with Lighthouse Recruiting, will be discussing the estimated 40 percent vacancy rate expected to hit labs in the short term. He will touch on ways to prepare and equip for the impending shortage, as well as offer silver-lining perspectives for both laboratorians and lab managers. Register here.

posted by Valerie Newitt

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