These paramount medical personnel behind the scenes are facing staffing challenges that could be bordering on a national crisis in public health.
The average person will receive 42 laboratory tests in their lifetime. According to the American Clinical Laboratory Association, there are more than 7 billion clinical lab tests performed in the US annually. Add to this, the millions of COVID-19 tests administered over the last 2 years, and the strain this has put on medical laboratory professionals is immense. Although this profession is responsible for all the lab tests administered, there is a shortage in the number of professionals working in the field, and the future predictions for new people entering laboratory sciences makes it more dire.
“With the projected increases in the need for medical laboratory professionals, and the current high vacancy rates, the profession is suffering from a workforce shortage that is approaching crisis levels for medical laboratory technicians, medical laboratory scientists, histotechnicians and histotechnologists,” the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) wrote on their website.
ASCLS says some of the reasons for the shortages include: retirements, an increased demand for lab services, changes in the practice of clinical laboratory science due to technology advances, and vacancies that exceed the number of graduates.
Although a strong need for these essential medical personnel remains, there are some inherent challenges to finding the next generation of medical laboratory professionals. For starters, as this profession is not public facing, there is a lack of awareness about the field and this lack of knowledge hinders potential recruitment of high school or college students who might be science-oriented, explained Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM, SVCM, MBCM, FACSc regents’ professor, Texas State University, university distinguished chair & professor, Clinical Laboratory Science.
“We are not dealing with patients like a nurse or physician, and so your aunt, your grandmother, even high school teachers and guidance counselors—or for that matter college advisors—do not always understand that our major, medical laboratory science, can be found at the associates level; you can find it in a four year degree like mine at Texas State University; there are various masters programs; and now we have 3 really interesting doctorate clinical laboratory science programs at Rutgers, UT in Galveston, and University of Kansas Medical Center,” Rohde said.
This week marks National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week across the US, and with it an understanding of the value of this honored profession.
“We want to celebrate,” Rohde stated about this awareness week. "…[we want] to shine that light on awareness and visibility on this profession and work towards really bringing in more high school students, transfer students, community college students, and anybody out there that is interested in diagnostic detective work to really give our major a look.”
In the first of a 2-part interview, Contagion spoke with Rohde about the importance of this week and celebrating Medical Laboratory Professionals, the shortages in the field, and some of the strategies to alleviate this major issue.
For those interested in learning more about National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, check out the American Society of Microbiology website for resources and events.