Answering your questions on what to do when your lab is sold and how to hire MTs and MLTs when there is a tech shortage

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Our lab is being sold what to do?

Q: A large, national reference laboratory is purchasing the laboratory I work for. We are being told not to worry, and that since both companies are publicly traded, all of the sale/merger information is confidential. We are all worried about our jobs. Can the panel give me any advice about what to look for and anything I can do to help myself?

A: According to Larry
Crolla, There is nothing in particular you can do now. It is always a good idea to let people know you support the new regime and you are not opposed to the changes taking place. The adage applies: You are either with me or against me. Also, this may be a great opportunity to learn new skills. If they are looking for people to cross-train or work at a nearby facility, you may want to consider the opportunity.

Alton Sturtevant reminds, The situation of having your company bought by a large laboratory is certainly stressful. While you cannot change the fact that your company is being sold, you can work to control your own future through a process of self-evaluation and controlling your response to the sale. A positive reaction and a can do attitude will help you face the change. Change seems to be a constant in many professions, especially in medical-related industries. You can recognize that a change will occur in your current circumstance. How you react to the challenge of the change can have an effect on your future, both professionally and physically. If you worry and are negative about the sale, you could cause yourself to become emotionally stressed and less effective as an employee, and affect the attitudes of your fellow workers as well. This will have an adverse effect on your future.

Dr. Sturtevant advises, Rather than being negative and fearful, look at this as an opportunity either to work hard and find new opportunities within the new company, or to move on to other opportunities. Take this event as a wake-up call to review your current status with regard to your career path and future professional goals. You should be continually evaluating your goals for the future, even without your company being sold. Periodically ask yourself questions that relate to achieving your written goals. Are you making continual professional improvement through learning new skills to make yourself more valuable in your current job? Do you want to advance into more managerial roles? Keep your resum up-to-date. Routinely network with other laboratory professionals to be aware of jobs that will meet your career goals. Learn what you can about the new company to help you plan. Does it seem to be a quality company that you would like to work for? Does the size of the new company give you opportunities that did not exist before? You may not be able to answer these questions fully prior to actually working for the new company. In the final analysis, if you are prepared for change and work to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, your abilities should be recognized and rewarded.

Marti Bailey recommends, I wouldnt be particularly comforted by HRs words. Even if jobs are protected per the sales agreement, the possibility exists that you may not want to keep your job when your employer changes. In the case of a sale/merger, its better to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised if things turn out better. Im not so sure that merger is ever an appropriate term for one of these business deals. To me, merger means a blending or joining of two entities, a partnership if you will. My experience has been that this rarely happens. One of the entities is the dominant organization and the other is subordinate. Even though you hear a lot of talk about taking the best from both, in reality the dominant partner always seems to have a corner on best practices. I point this out because if your lab is the one being sold, be prepared for big changes, some of which will be for the better and some that wont.

Ms. Bailey adds, Be proactive by preparing for the possibility that you may be looking for a new job. Its often situations like this that move people to take that leap into a second career, go back to school, start their own businesses, or look for another job in the same field. This is an ideal time to assess your skills, think about your future, and update your
resum. If you already have good interpersonal skills, youll be even better off. If you rate yourself only mediocre in this regard, set a goal for yourself to improve quickly. Whether you remain at your same job and weather the transition to a new employer, or decide to move on, getting along with all kinds of people is key to success. A strong computer background is also a big plus. The healthcare industry is dependent upon a host of information systems, many of which interface with each other. I have seen a number of laboratory workers transition very successfully from the laboratory into hospital information technology (IT). Proficiency with basic office software is also a necessity. Last but not least is demonstrating that you are flexible and continuing to learn, via night or weekend college courses or going for a second degree. This will go a long way toward improving your chances for success at whatever you choose to do. Healthcare has gone through tremendous change, and the end isnt in sight. Those who keep on top of the industry and can change in the required ways will be the survivors.

Bottom line: Be prepared for change and work hard to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Let the new owners know your strengths and abilities; they will discover your weaknesses soon enough. Look for ways to help the new owners/management in the transition period. It is always prudent to keep your curriculum vitae polished with new information (awards, new certifications, new publications, training, etc.) inserted as it occurs.

Hiring MTs and MLTs

Q: I read your column in the July issue about hiring the right person and felt that many valid points were made. But where are the applicants? We have open positions for MTs and MLTs with no one applying.

A: Thanks for your comments about our recent article. I dont know what size city you work in, but the size will help dictate the best approach. You may have to bring in people from other cities and pay moving expenses and maybe even offer a sign-on bonus if things are really bad. Another option is to hire the good people from other places locally. Use your networking skills to talk to techs at other hospitals to determine if they will come to your lab. None of this is easy; these are tough times. Keep your lab a great place to work.

Marti Bailey refers to the Jan. 25, 2002, issue of the National Intelligence Report1 and reminds, Youre not alone. The lab personnel shortage is just part of a worker shortfall in all allied healthcare professions. An AHA Special Workforce Survey identified a 12 percent vacancy rate for laboratory technologists. Major reasons cited for the healthcare personnel shortage are the graying population and workforce (for example, the median age of laboratorians and nurses now ranges in the mid-40s); and a steady decline in the number of entrants into the allied health fields (for example, the number of laboratory graduates dropped by 29 percent between 1995 and 2000). The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that although 9,000 new entrants into the lab field will be required between 1998 and 2008, new graduates from accredited institutions will account for only half of this number. 

The Coordinating Council on the Clinical Laboratory workforce has identified a number of root causes of the healthcare personnel shortage. These include:

  • Low salaries.
  • The shortage of scholarships and loan forgiveness for laboratory students.
  • Job burnout associated with high stress environments, 24/7 work schedules, exposure to dangerous
    biopathogens, and lack of career mobility.
  • The lack of a uniform licensure standard and its presumed relationship with the importance of the job.
  • The lack of interest in lab science careers.

The current shortage received recognition at government levels as evidenced by the House passage of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act (HR 3448) that includes several elements of the Medical Laboratory Personnel Shortage Act (HR 1948). Since the Senate passed an alternative form of legislation, reconciliation by conference will be required. Congress also approved additional funding for the Allied Health Project Grants Program based on the knowledge of high vacancy rates for laboratory personnel.

Ms. Bailey advises, Realizing that things arent going to turn around on a dime, here are some hiring suggestions.

  • One of the best things you can do personally is to maintain good relationships with current and past laboratory employees. Retention strategies are more critical than ever, but when employees do leave for personal reasons and remain in the area, make sure you keep in touch with them for possible temporary or casual employment. Circumstances can change very quickly. Weve been particularly fortunate in our laboratory to be able to rehire a number of excellent previous employees.
  • Although you might have had to advertise only locally to fill your positions in the past, you may now have to advertise over a larger region or even nationally. If your organization doesnt have a website for job postings, get one. We get a far better response rate to our Web postings than we do for most newspaper ads.
  • Consider whether you may need hiring incentives in order to attract applicants. If out-of-town candidates are your prime supply of applicants, you may need to offer moving expenses or a relocation allowance in order to be given serious consideration.

Larry Crolla points out, It depends on what state and city you are in. You know that there is a shortage of qualified lab personnel. Some states feel the shortage more than others. You may have to offer a signing bonus to attract people to your institution. This is becoming very common for radiology and is moving to the lab as a hiring technique. Your HR department should have some idea about what is happening in your community.

According to Alton Sturtevant, There really does seem to be a shortage of laboratory professionals. To ensure that you are reaching the potential workforce to make them aware of your jobs, you can use the following methods:

  • Advertise in the appropriate section of the most widely read newspaper in the area.
  • Work with a local
    MT/MLT training program to have students spend time training at your laboratory.
  • Offer attractive scheduling such as four 10-hour days, 7-on/7-off, etc.
  • Use a recruiting agency.
  • Offer a sign-on bonus.
  • Offer a reward system to your current employees for finding good employees.
  • Consider job sharing and other part-time programs.

Remember that you are competing with other institutions, so make sure you know what the market is doing to get their staff and find a way to beat them.


1. Focus on Lab Personnel Shortage. National Intelligence Report. January 25, 2002;XXIII(7).

Bottom line: Times like this, with the shortages of MTs and MLTs in many parts of the country, require innovative practices to attract techs to your hospital and laboratory. Try the ideas from our panelists that seem appropriate for your laboratory. Set up a long-term plan with HR to attract and hire qualified techs that includes sign-on bonuses, paying moving expenses, educational benefits for those who stay a specified time, bonuses for current lab employees who find good techs to work in your lab, flexible schedules, and more part-time employees.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

© 2002 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.