During the last week of July, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) held its Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Chicago. I was impressed with the extent of learning opportunities available in both the educational sessions and exhibit floor. Many sessions provided guidance on the current challenges in the laboratory field such as the current state of legislation for laboratory-developed tests, developing clinical decision support tools for laboratory testing, preanalytical issues for blood collection and testing outside conventional locations, and the clinical laboratory staffing crisis.
I attended “The clinical laboratory workforce: Essential before, critical now, and a blueprint for a stronger future” scientific session presented by Bianca Frogner, PhD and Edna Garcia, MPH. Dr. Frogner shared the findings from the study, Strengthening the clinical lab professional workforce: The roles and concerns of educators and employers, which included a literature review and interviews with academic program directors, clinical laboratory employees, and professional associations and organizations to study the histotechnician, histotechnologists, medical laboratory assistant, medical laboratory technician, medical laboratory scientist, and phlebotomist occupations. Their findings were grouped into three themes: education and training, employment, and policy and practice. Further information on each theme is as follows:
Education and training:
- Recruitment could be improved with greater visibility and awareness.
- Securing enough training sites for their students is a challenge for academic programs.
- Student program completion and employment rates are high across the occupations.
- Recruitment challenges caused from low wages, workload and burnout concerns, and limited visibility and awareness of occupations.
- Limited opportunities for career advancement and wage progression can lead to turnover and retention challenges.
- Retention strategies include professional development and continuing education options available across employer types and occupations.
Note: When Dr. Frogner polled the audience on whether there were professional development opportunities at their places of employment, 76% of the audience indicated “yes.”
Policy and practice:
- Practice changes include technological advancements that present opportunities for efficiency for a strained workforce. Interview respondents did not feel that automation in the laboratory would result in job loss.
- Policy changes that affect insurance reimbursement rates, particularly from Medicare, can lead to further consolidation and cost-cutting measures. There are opportunities for laboratory leaders and staff to improve their visibility to organizational leaders when policy changes affect organizational budgets.
Ms. Garcia presented the “Blueprint for action to strengthen the workforce of clinical laboratory professionals” developed by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies. This Blueprint outlines strategies for employment recruitment, employment retention, academic recruitment, diversity and inclusion in the laboratory, and diversity and inclusion in training programs. These strategies aim to improve the recognition of the current clinical laboratory workforce, increase the opportunities for new entrants into the workforce, and strengthen the pathways into and among these careers. The Blueprint and its 12 recommendations can be found on the ASCP website.
In this issue, MLO also examined the clinical laboratory workforce in the article, “Today’s laboratory workforce shortage” on page 30. Three laboratory directors and the president of a laboratory consulting and recruiting firm provide their insights on preparing, recruiting, and retaining laboratory professionals. Laboratory staff are also the center of the article, “Automation in the lab: A necessary growth pillar when emerging from COVID-19” on page 24. The author, Santy Galvez, shared how automation is a way labs can increase flexibility and remain nimble within their existing staff resources. Our CE this month, “Getting ready for flu season — expert guidance,” will hopefully provide laboratory staff valuable information to effectively move testing along this season, if it is a bad one, as predicted. That article can be found on page 8.
Lastly, I am excited to introduce our new Q&A expert, Dr. Charles Cooper. His profile is inside the back cover. He is very excited to receive your questions!
I welcome your comments, questions, and opinions — please send them to me at [email protected].