Global certification gains traction

Efforts to establish international
certification standards for laboratorians are on track and
gaining support around the world. Based on standards set by the
American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), international
certification is designated ASCPi. Those who successfully
complete the requirements for international certification —
which includes passing an exam and meeting minimum education
requirements similar to those in the United States — are given
the designation of MT(ASCPi), MLT(ASCPi), MB(ASCPi) or PBT(ASCPi).

Ever since its debut in 2006, the basic intent
of international certification has remained the same, says
Jennifer Young, senior manager of international certification at
ASCP. “The intent was to give foreign lab techs a way to prove
their competence in their home countries and to give them a leg
up. The ultimate goal is to raise standards in their home

The examination used in determining
international certification is almost the same as the U.S.
version, except questions pertaining to U.S. governmental
policies and procedures, such as the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, Clinical Laboratory Improvement
Amendments, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act, have been removed. “We replaced them with International
Organization for Standardization safety questions,” Young says.

Using ISO15189

Although Young points out there is not
a standard worldwide for the accreditation of laboratories, she
notes, “Everybody is trying to use the ISO 15189 standard as the
global standard.” Given the increasing number of foreign lab
techs wishing to emigrate to the United States, the ASCP is
developing a “bridge” exam to streamline the process of getting
U.S.-certified by including U.S. governmental policies and
procedures. “Those with an ASCPi would lose the ‘i’ and become
fully ASCP certified,” Young says.

These foreign-trained techs, however, would
still need to work in a U.S. lab for at least six months before
they are eligible, she adds. The bridge exam may be available by
the end of this year, Young says. Interestingly, not all states
require a full U.S. ASCP certification. “California recognizes ASCPi for MT licensure,” Young says, adding that the state has
included a short regulatory component to its own licensing exam.

When the international certification was first
offered, the primary focus was on countries in the Far East such
as South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong. But
that has changed, Young says. “We now accept applications from
all over the world. We had received more than 2,331 applications
as of March 5, 2010, from 41 separate countries. But the
majority are still from the Philippines, followed by South Korea
and India.”

There are more than 70 MT programs offered in
the Philippines alone, Young says. Candidates in that country
who pass an exam are issued a number by the Professional
Regulatory Commission, which allows them to practice in any lab.

Going global

The globalization of laboratory
technology and the subsequent efforts to establish international
certification standards are emerging industry trends, says
Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report based in
Spicewood, TX. Although certifying foreign medical laboratory
professionals was not the original intent of the ASCP, the
current shortage of qualified med techs in the United States has
opened the door to foreign-trained technologists. “The ‘harmonizing’ of credential acceptance would allow MTs to work
in other countries,” Michel says. “A more uniform system would
make it easier for these people to come to the U.S.”

But there are shortages in other countries as
well, he says. So, a number of countries are now willing to
reform their certification processes in order to attract other
qualified foreign-trained technologists.

In certain instances, a domino effect is
starting to be seen, Michel says. As countries like the
Philippines continue to lose large numbers of techs to the U.S.,
its labs are beginning to look to other countries in the region
from which to recruit qualified techs.

While both Young and Michel acknowledge that the
U.S. shortage is now helping to fuel the efforts of
international certification, Michel says other factors also are
at work. He points to the sale of the same analyzers, reagents,
and assays by companies that have a stake in markets around the
world. And he notes, “A growing number of countries are
beginning to use ISO as a basis of their lab accreditation. Ten
to 15 years ago, these elements were not as well established.”

Richard R. Rogoski is a
freelance journalist based in Durham, NC. Contact him at [email protected]