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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Work and Play

Published October 23, 2007 3:09 PM by Glen McDaniel
I work with a variety of organizations to improve organizational efficiency and reduce staff turnover. Recently, I was in the office of a clinical lab director who was interrupted several times by various employees and supervisors. The interesting thing was the problems all boiled down somehow to employees being dissatisfied with what they regarded as inflexible schedules or inequitable treatment. The director was clearly flustered and annoyed. "What do they want from me?" she asked me rhetorically.

She reminded me of a time when we were simply glad to have a job, loved coming in to work and did not whine about every inconvenience. "That's why they call this "work," not "play," she fumed. Hmmm. Now the interesting thing is I was there to present to her several initiatives I had used with companies in the past to dramatically increase recruitment and reduce staff turnover.

Among the suggestions were flexible scheduling, listening to staff, doing exit interviews to find out what made staff leave, while talking with long-term employees to find out what makes them stay. She heard all of this, nodded agreement but could not move past her own old habits, apparently.

First off, I am not sure her selective memory of the good old days is accurate! Anyone one else find such inflexibility in management? What are the types of managerial attitudes and behavioral initiatives that attract staff, keep them happy and keep them from leaving?


December 28, 2009 5:32 PM

About a month ago, I received a call from the senior laboratory technologist under which I worked at the previously mentioned NC clinical allergy/immunology/reference lab, informing me that the president and CEO of this laboratory was recently taken to court by the bank to which he switched our payroll operations.

Unfortunately, I can't say that this turn of events dramatically surprises me.  The head honcho of the lab may have exhibited the same irresponsible lack of communication and unsympathetic disregard for its detrimental results toward those at this bank as he exhibited toward me when I asked him about why employees were not informed in advance about the change in payroll providers.  As a result of not being informed about that, or the waiting period for the bank to activate direct deposit, I did not know anything about my paycheck not being directly deposited until after I inadvertently bounced a rent check.

Stephanie Mathis,MT(ASCP), Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network April 7, 2008 5:14 PM
Danville VA

Well, I suppose it's a good thing I minored in psychology during my time at Methodist University (NC) along with my BS degree in Biology with a concentration in Microbiology/Cell Biology.  At the time, however, I did not imagine that psychology would be involved to such a significant extent in the medical laboratory career I would eventually choose.

A post from Glen that I had read under the "lower pay for female-dominated professions" topic may also be relevant to the amount of respect/appreciation, or lack thereof, for medical technologists.  A former colleague and friend of mine who became certified as a CLS(NCA) in 1991 told me that the debate about centralizing all medical laboratory personnel under one main certification category was going on even then...

What do I have to do to finally accomplish that and get us lab "nerds" the higher compensation, both financial and psychological, that we have worked EXTREMELY hard for - run for Congress or something?! LOL

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network December 20, 2007 6:54 AM
Winston Salem NC

Thanks for that last comment, Stephanie. Leaders do set the tone for an prganization. It is very difficult to stay positive in a sea of negativity and it is much harder to challenge and "call out" a superior than a colleague. Therefore negativity, harsh criticism, even bullying (horizontal violence, if you will) is especially difficult to overcome if it is caused by a manager.

Equally important, though, is that last revelation by Stephanie: that the feelings of frustration she experienced has two sides: the "abuse" and her internalizing the abuse.

Glen McDaniel December 19, 2007 1:04 PM

What Glen heard from the old-school lab manager he mentioned in his 1st post under this topic was very interesting to me.  You see, my ex-husband also said that "there is a reason work is called 'work;' one will not always enjoy their job."

I read a couple of editorials on the ADVANCE nursing web page that really turned a light on in my head; they were about "horizontal violence" or "lateral violence," terms of which I had never heard until I came across these articles.  

It finally occurred to me that perhaps my lovely ex-husband had not figured me out as accurately as he thought he had with his assumptions about how "I must not be able to remain working at one facility for longer than six months because there is something seriously wrong with my interpersonal skills or how I relate to other people."  

It really made me feel better to find out that my difficulties during the last three years as a MT had as much to do with other people's issues and insecurities as how I deal with those attitudes, internalize them, and tend to take them personally.

Check out these links:

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network December 18, 2007 8:42 AM
Winston Salem NC

Somehow, it does not surprise the mess out of me that "backstabbing," etc., took place in medical laboratory facilities in Tennessee.  My mother works as a teacher's assistant in Vermont.  She commented to me that people up north are much more concerned with doing their jobs through TEAMWORK and positivity, as opposed to participating in the high-school-type popularity contests and managerial favoritism BS that seems to dominate in the southern part of our fine country.  At the hospital in Indiana in which I am currently employed, I have definitely also found a more favorable working environment in which people help/encourage each other and don't jump on their co-workers, treating them like big fat "LOSERS" every time they make a mistake, as all imperfect human beings tend to do occasionally.  

Our supervisor also actually pitched in and helped us get caught up when the ER sent us what seemed like a million specimens around lunch time one day last week - something that would NEVER happen in any of my previous employers in North Carolina, except perhaps Duke.  This supervisor also helped fix our osmolality analyzer, while the lab "supervisor" in NC who wrote me up for calling a MRSA to a doctor at 6:30 on a Saturday morning was a phlebotomist who earned "mail-order" MLT certification 30 years ago and did not seem to know the first thing about anything going on out in the lab.  

The ironic thing is that I left a job that I loved in the Duke microbiology lab to work three 12-hour shifts/week for this narrow-minded woman who did not appreciate her employees worth a that I could spend more time with my four-year-old daughter before she started school the following year.  Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished.  After everything that I described in my previous postings happened, I wondered if there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a person, and if I would just be "cursed" forever to work in situations in which I was not appreciated or valued at all whatsoever.  I am very relieved to find out that ASCP is publishing a continuing education exercise in their 2008 LabQ about "the importance of positivity in the clinical laboratory workplace."

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network November 30, 2007 3:20 PM
Winston Salem NC

The supervisor in your posting is apparently from an older school of workplace times.  These days and times are a bit different.  There are more one (working) parent households, there are households where both parents work - sometimes opposite shifts - to save on daycare and to keep children in the household.  More and more employees' families are involved in activities and events than they may have been a decade or more ago.

Flexible staffing and working hours that are more conducive to family life would be great.  Will we ever find them abundant in the laboratory - healthcare field?  Doubtful.  Can anything be done to ease the burden of the demands a 40+ hr work week [on shiftwork] does to an employee and his/her family?  


But it takes a major step from all parties involved to put this change forward.  One suggestion put forth in my workplace would be three consecutive 13-hour or four consecutive 10-hour shifts for FTE's.  The part timers and per-diems could fill in wherever there were gaps.  This would effectively give more time off to employees and ease the burden on those that have a busy after-work life.  

I find that this above suggestion would be greatly appreciated - especially by those on the off shifts for a number of reasons.  Those that work second shift are away in evening time and have a harder time connecting with friends and family.  It is harder to make impulsive plans or extra time off has to be taken off to attend family events.  Those that work third shift obviously have the brunt of impractical schedules.  The way that our schedule works is Monday night through Friday night, working every other weekend.  For those that work this shift and schedule, know that you effectively work every weekend and only have one day off a week (Sunday).  Getting off tired on Saturday morning and having to be back Monday night leaves a weekend that is hardly a weekend.  

If there were longer, yet fewer shifts, this would leave more -consecutive- days off for individuals and families to have time off.  

I can personally say that working this night shift schedule is hard enough.  Anything the employees and management can collectively come up with to ease stress and make working hours more flexible would be greatly embraced by the workforce.  This could collectively increase morale, retention and productivity.  I think that this would be more appreciated than throwing a meager 'raise' or shift differential our way.  A few extra dollars a year for working this shift hardly makes compensation for the inconviences that it brings

Where else can one find a job where you can get full time hours and only work three days a week  (excluding nursing, obviously).    This may be why more are flocking that way than our way............


Ryan, Medical Technologist November 27, 2007 7:58 AM
Buffalo NY

I totally agree with everything said above.  I have been a MT for 7 years and earned my Supervisor's license last year.  I have been stabbed in the back, erroneously blamed, had information falsified against me, all for just trying to do an honest day's work.  I go to work to do just that....WORK.  It's not a social call.  It's a career that I love and want to do to advance my career because I know that I am good at what I do, rather than walk around wearing brown lipstick 365 days a year......I earn my accomplishments!  

My current problem is that I have been laid off since the end of June 2007, have applied for over 80 jobs with only 7 interviews and I live in a suburb of Memphis, TN.  I would really like to know where the shortage of MT's are in the Memphis area, that everyone complains about.  Am I back in the same boat again with my BS in Biology?  Under/Over-qualified?  In-experienced/Too much experience?  

I never in all my life would ever suspect that with 2 college degree's I would be receiving an Unemployment Check.  That right there is an embarassment to the Medical Technology field as a whole for the Memphis, TN medical metro complex.   Like they say, "Hind sight is 20-20," I should have went to nursing school to begin with.

Although I love what I do, but generally not the nasty people I have to work with, I am truely disheartened by my profession and the professional bodies that are "supposedly" fighting for my rights today, like a broken record 10 years ago :o(

Michele, MT Supervisor November 26, 2007 1:58 AM
Memphis TN

Unfortunately, the facility I mentioned is not the only unpleasant work environment in which I have worked as a MT.  I also dealt with a supervisor at a similarly-sized hospital who ignored complaints from my colleagues about a 3rd shift employee sleeping on the job, not placing a Blood Bank ID bracelet on a patient he collected a crossmatch specimen from, etc.  He then went on a power trip about another employee listening to the radio at a volume he considered unacceptable (when I was unaware of any complaints about it being too loud from the numerous nurses and outpatients who visited the lab during the day).

Also, during a temporary position at a North Carolina STAT lab owned by a well-known laboratory corporation, the regional QA/safety officer (and former lab manager) was apparently bent out of shape from preparing for an upcoming CLIA inspection.  She marveled about having great techs working in her facility at that time, then later in THAT SAME DAY, verbally chewed me out when I dared to comment on two techs being expected to work on a record-breaking 73 accessions while a third new employee read procedure manuals in the break room all day.  This woman yelled that as a tech, she had to deal with almost that high of a number of specimens herself one day when her co-worker called in sick AND they had to call an accessioner in from Burlington to help out.

At my most recent place of employment before coming to Indiana, a newly established reference lab performing allergy/immunology as well as general clinical lab testing, management did not inform employees in advance that their March 2, 2007 paychecks would be paper rather than direct deposit.  As a result, I bounced my March rent check.  I politely asked the president/CEO whether the situation with their new payroll provider would be resolved by the next payday - then asked him again on March 16 whether I misunderstood his response when that paycheck was also not directly deposited.  Evidently he considered any questioning on employees' parts of his lack of communication as "unacceptable attitude."

I consider it extremely sad that I had to leave the state of North Carolina in order to find a positively motivational working environment in which I am treated with the respect and consideration I believe I deserve as a clinical laboratorian who graduated #3 in her high school class, summa *** laude from college, and scored 1380 on the SAT.  

I still wonder in the back of my mind whether I ought to apply for law school after I finish this temporary assignment.   As an attorney, I would be paid to argue on other people's behalf rather than be hated by unfair/unreasonable management for speaking my mind and being more honest than some of these excuses for supervisors are comfortable with.

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network November 15, 2007 9:35 AM
Winston Salem NC


I am sorry for your experience and I wish I could say your supervisor's reaction was rare; but it's not. Many supervisors, especially those promoted without formal leadership training, believe that every issue must be attacked with brute force. It's like using a blunt instrument to perform brain surgery! They guage their effectiveness by how much they "put others in their place".

Risk managers know that very often all an unhappy customer wants is a sincere apology or explanation of what went wrong. They rarely demand blood, money or someone's head. Yet inexperienced managers insist on sacrificing up someone.

A more useful tack would have been for your supervisor to talk to you to learn what happened, revisit the process, get CLS and MD input and then put in writing an improved process for preventing a recurrence in the future.

One thing you learned, I am sure, is what NOT to do as a supervisor.

Glen McDaniel November 11, 2007 5:25 PM

I was certified as a MT by ASCP in 2004.  Recently, I have dealt with some experiences that caused me to seriously consider an alternate career rather than remain in the medical laboratory field.

I worked weekends at a 200-bed community hospital last year.  During training, I was instructed by the microbiology section head to call all MRSAs and multi-drug resistant microorganisms to a physician "first thing in the morning."  However, when the laboratory supervisor received a complaint from an irate doctor about being called at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, she did not think highly enough of me as a laboratory professional to consider my side of the story.

I had erroneously obtained the name of this physician, who had ordered a culture on a previous specimen from the same patient, from the Vitek sensitivity analyzer.

The laboratory supervisor could have acknowledged that good medical technologists sometimes make mistakes because they are not perfect 100% of the time - and advised me to look up current patient information in the computer system in the future.  However, this woman unfairly used the hospital's disciplinary policies to basically punish me for doing my job with a written reprimand citing my "not following instructions."  Apparently, I was actually supposed to follow the contradictory instructions of the Blood Bank section head, who was working on that particular weekend, that "if she were me, she would not bother that doctor with calls before 9:00 on a weekend morning."

Luckily, I am now employed in a traveling contract MT position in Indiana by a facility with a more fair and reasonable laboratory manager.  I'm actually treated like a human being and appreciated as a valuable member of this hospital's laboratory team.  This type of work atmosphere immensely increases employee morale AND the probability of retaining talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated laboratory professionals.

Stephanie Mathis, generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network November 9, 2007 9:04 AM
Winston Salem NC

I would like to comment on the recruitment process.  According to recent studies the average age in clinical laboratory science is 51.  Respectfully, these individuals are approaching retirement. Although quality patient care (work) is the main objective, potential and current clinical laboratorians are attracted by salary, location and travel opportunities.  The job market for clinical laboratory science has expanded both national and international making the recruitment process very competitive and in demand.  To be sucessful recruiters must place emphasis on the three areas mentioned.  What type of income does your company offer (benefits, savings, retirement)?, What type of area is the company located (main attractions, historic sites, major sport teams, social activites)? Will the employee have the opportunity to travel (continuing educational programs, vacation benefits, contract assignments)? When potential clinical laboratorians have knowledge of these things enrollment in clincial science programs increase. Salaries may increase as in nursing. Recruiting statistics increase. Schedules become more flexible due to sufficient staffing. Managers are happy.

Brian Hicks, HealthCare/Business - Medical Technologist November 5, 2007 2:14 PM
Jackson TN

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