Find a ray of hope in a gloomy economy

March 1, 2009

Every where you turn these days, there is another hard-luck story. Whether it is a store closing, company layoffs, or short sales and foreclosures, the economic hard times have darkened nearly every corner of the world. The glimmer of hope that MLO sees, however, is that of the ongoing need for medical laboratory technologists and technicians. And while their numbers have dwindled year by year and estimates tell us that by 2012, 100,000 vacant MLT/MT positions will exist, the need for laboratory testing is greater than it has ever been. While a relentless search for clinical laboratory professionals is ongoing, MLO readers might find a little ray of sunshine amidst the gloom. Before we all go in search of “sun and fun,” here are the results from a total of 2,073 concerned MLO readers who responded to our annual salary survey.

According to MLO's survey respondents, the representative lab professional is a female (71%), 51 years of age, working in an urban area (41%) in Texas (7%) or New York (6%). She has a supervisory position as a lab manager/administrator (27%) or a section manager/supervisor (24%) in a hospital lab (69%), and she generally works an eight-hour shift (72%). Her salary is between $75,002 (lab director), and $67,057 (section manager/supervisor) compared to the average yearly salary for a medical technologist at $53,781.

Our representative clinical laboratorian works for an organization with either one to 10 employees in her department (25%), where the annual test volume is more than 1,000,000 (30%). She holds a bachelor's degree from a college or university (60%) and is certified in her field (95%). She has taken more than 10 CE classes yearly (37%). She has worked in the clinical laboratory field for more than 20 years (74%) and has been with her current employer for more than 20 years (36%).

There are wide variations in salary among our fun-loving friends. No doubt some of the salary differences relate to competency level, business conditions, or personality factors, and it is not possible to evaluate these from responses to a questionnaire. Several easily defined factors, however, seem to contribute to different pay structures. These include education, geographic location, job function, and the length of time a person has been in the clinical laboratory profession.

Variations exist among this sun-and-fun-loving group
  • Education

Generally, education is a significant differentiator in salary structure. The typical employee with a high- school diploma makes about $42,500 less than one with a post-graduate college degree (see Figure 1). Even the employee with a bachelor's degree is likely to experience a $15,000 shortfall as compared to her post-graduate counterpart. The range between a pathologist and a medical technologist was $134,500.

Figure 1. Median salary by education
  • Geographic area

Those in the Pacific, Northeast, and Mountain regions get the highest salaries ($81,000, $72,000, $66,560, respectively), while the ones in the Midwest ($62,000) and South ($62,000) do not fluctuate (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Median salary by geographical region
  • Job function

Understandably, a person's primary job function is a significant salary differentiator. Pathologists and physicians are the leading contenders, with an average salary of $187,500 (see Figure 3). Our sun-loving medical technologists average $53,000 annually.

Figure 3. Median salary by job function
  • Years in the industry

In general, our clinical laboratorian's salary increases the longer she stays in the professional field (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Median salary by years in the industry
Bring along the lotion

Our average clinical laboratorian says her particular environment does offer some substantial benefits. As part of her contract, healthcare insurance (98%), dental coverage (91%), life insurance (87%), 401(k) (89%), disability insurance (78%), and bonuses (22%) were part of her 2008 annual compensation package. She expects a salary increase of 3% (43%) this year, and believes that her job — with which she is very dissatisfied (65%) — is also very secure (42%) or somewhat secure (42%).

Finally, the typical clinical laboratorian has experienced a moderate impact on her laboratory due to the shortage of medical personnel (45%), which has so far not made it necessary to outsource (88%). Her lab, however, did automate and/or further automate procedures last year (57%), and intends to continue automating in the coming year (59%).

Facing a bright tomorrow

Accolades go to the healthcare specialists in labs throughout our country whose dedication to the medical laboratory profession brings a resounding “job well done” from patients and other medical professionals. MLO salutes you!

* The anomalies of lab professionals with three to five years of experience receiving lower pay than those with less experience (see Figure 4) might be influenced by a combination of the survey respondents' job functions and regions of residence, as well as other factors that cannot be measured here. It is also quite possible is that the salary issue does not relate to the pay scale but to the compression of current employee salaries due to length of service (e.g., new employees are hired at higher salaries than those of current employees of equal experience). This happens when scales are set at an annual increase that is greater than the actual annual salary increase — and also when starting salaries are adjusted to match the market levels.