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As Seasoned Lab Professionals Retire, Certified Staff Needed to Supply Future Workforce

Apr 05, 2018

Medical Laboratory Profession Needs to Intensify Recruitment Efforts To Stem the Workforce Shortage: ASCP 2016-2017 Vacancy Survey

With baby boomers retiring in droves, the medical laboratory profession needs to intensify efforts to recruit the next generation of professionals, according to the newly-released ASCP 2016-2017 Vacancy Survey. A focus on qualifications and certification status is crucial to addressing the needs of the laboratory workforce of the future, according to the Vacancy Survey, which was published in the March 2018 issue of the journal, AJCP.

Retirement rates of laboratory professionals (for those retiring in the next 5 years) are at their highest across the majority of departments since 2012. Moreover, the rate of supervisory retirements is higher compared with staff, especially in the anatomic pathology, chemistry toxicology, cytogenetics, cytology, flow cytometry, hematology coagulation, immunology, microbiology, phlebotomy, point-of-care, send-outs, and specimen departments. Data suggest that these fields will soon be experiencing a drain in personnel who have been working for a long period of time and have a vast amount of experience.

Overall, 24 percent of survey respondents said their primary concern is finding qualified laboratory professionals to staff the labs. They also indicated that the number of applicants is extremely low compared with the number of personnel retiring. To fill the vacancies, some laboratories are hiring non-certified staff, a trend that Carlo Ledesma, SH(ASCP)CM, MT(ASCP), has observed in his region in Oklahoma City, Okla.

“In Oklahoma City and the South, there is a big movement of hiring people who are just meeting CLIA requirements, which does not require certification,” said Mr. Ledesma, program director for the MLT and phlebotomy programs at Rose State College, in Oklahoma City.  “What has driven the hiring of nontraditional people is the mass exodus of techs. There are not a lot of MLT or MLS schools here.”

His team conducted a study to see if there was a difference in quality between certified and noncertified lab professionals. “We wanted to get data from our immediate area. There were increased errors in nontraditional hires (who lack certification) compared to traditional hires. They take longer to train, which means allocating more financial resources.  They failed to recognize critical results because they don’t know the clinical difference in a test.”

Overall certification rates are highest among the core laboratory and hematology/ coagulation departments, and lowest among phlebotomy and specimen processing.  Compared with the 2014 survey report, more departments now require hiring employees who are certified.

Conducted every two years, the ASCP Vacancy Survey serves as the primary source for industry labor, government, and academic analysts. Overall, this year’s 1,340 respondents (who hold management level or human resource positions) represent 51,586 medical laboratory employees across the United States.

Across the nation, the overall vacancy rate was highest for LIS/QA/PI department (10.98%) and lowest for anatomic pathology department (4.70%)

Overall, survey results show that it takes less than 3 to 6 months to fill positions in the departments surveyed. On average, hiring nonsupervisory staff for most departments takes 3 to 6 months, while hiring supervisors takes 3 months to a year.

As laboratory professionals retire, there is still a significant effort nationwide to recruit more young professionals to enter the field of medical laboratory science. ASCP has several initiatives in place to address the medical laboratory workforce shortage. These include:

- ASCP Career Ambassadors 2.0 program, in which ASCP members visit pre-college students across the country to talk about medical laboratory careers.

- Whatsmynext.org, an interactive website targeted toward science-oriented high school students that positions laboratory medicine as a potential career path.

- NEXTPO, a program at ASCP’s Annual Meeting that brings together ASCP members, educators, and students for hands-on science experiments.

To access the 2016-2017 Vacancy Survey data, click here. To read about ASCP's brief of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Advisory Committee (CLIAC) regarding vacancy survey data, click here.

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