Medical Laboratory Professionals: A Valuable Field, An Industry in Obscurity


These behind-the-scenes, essential personnel remain a significant part of health care and is a field with growth opportunities, but remain a field in need of public awareness to enable its stability.

To the general public, laboratory tests are sent off and appear back a short time later with the results. However, there is the absence of knowing what went into obtaining those results. In a closed-off setting, a field of highly dedicated medical laboratory professionals are working on a variety of tests, and these diagnostic detectives are analyzing lab results, reviewing patients’ medical histories, and conferring with clinicians to put together the pieces of peoples’ health puzzles.

Billions of laboratory tests are performed annually in the US. The laboratory professional field has a continued need for personnel and there are growth opportunities, yet, the field has staffing shortages.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM, SVCM, MBCM, FACSc regents’ professor, Texas State University, university distinguished chair & professor, Clinical Laboratory Science, says the industry faces an awareness problem. For example, high school students may have an aptitude for biology or chemistry, and they might be told by their counselors and teachers about medical, veterinary, or engineering fields, but a career in the lab may not be discussed. There are students who may not want to be patient-facing, but love science, so the lab might be a better-suited alternative for them. 

Rohde explains there are 4 different areas of focus, including: microbiology, which can take people the route of infectious disease; hematology, which is the science of red and white blood cells and play an important role in blood cancers; immunohematology, which is a critical area of lab work and geared towards deciphering blood types and getting the right kind of blood to people; and clinical chemistry, which involves testing panels around elements like thyroid issues, and measuring sodium and cholesterol levels.

This week marks National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week across the US, and it’s an opportunity to highlight the industry, bring awareness to the public about what they do, and talk about some of the challenges they are dealing with, including staffing shortages.

This is the second in a 2-part interview. Contagion spoke with Rohde about how technology has influenced the industry, the nuances of testing and how lab professionals’ expertise plays a role in deciphering results, and his continued passion for the field.

In the previous interview, Rohde spoke about the staffing shortages within the industry.

For those interested in learning more about National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, check out the American Society of Microbiology website for resources and events.

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