Nancy Ross, MS, MT(ASCP)CMP, CQIA (ASQ), CLC (AMT), is a laboratory professional with more than 20 years of experience. She is the founder of Improov, a laboratory consulting company with a focus on laboratory quality and performance improvement.
Back in 2012, I found myself at a dead end in my career. I had been a generalist for about 10 years, had tried my hand at microbiology, which I loved, but was disappointed when I noticed there was no clear path for advancement in my role at the time. In other words, I was hungry for growth and didn’t know where to start.
I recall thinking as a young scientist that perhaps I had made the wrong choice in selecting this career and fell prey to the perception that the field was limited in terms of career options and opportunities. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth as opportunities abound and the number of available roles are plenty; the issue often resides with lack of awareness among clinical lab staff about the many career paths they can pursue.
For me, everything started to change when I received an email job alert for a role outside of benchwork, and while I was nervous, I mustered enough courage to interview. After a few interviews, I was hired by a laboratory accreditation company as a technical advisor—a role I wasn’t aware was a possibility for a bench tech. Once I successfully transitioned to the new job, I became curious about all the different job opportunities for clinical lab professionals and how skills learned at the bench can be used in these different roles.
Career opportunities in laboratory accreditation
Laboratory accreditation ensures clinical laboratories provide accurate test results, which is a key aspect of patient care. There are various roles within accreditation agencies for which a background in laboratory bench work can come in handy, from a technical advisor, an education specialist to an inspector, proficiency testing expert, plan of corrections reviewer, and more.
Laboratory accreditation jobs are a smart choice for laboratory scientists interested in jobs in quality assurance or laboratory management. The amount of knowledge you gain while working at a regulatory agency applies to all clinical laboratories and gives you a general understanding of compliance requirements. From that perspective, you gain key insights into what inspectors look for, what requirements apply to your laboratory, industry trends, networking opportunities, the scope of the industry, and much more.
Career opportunities in laboratory information technology
Another area of opportunity for those looking to transition away from the bench is the role of laboratory information analyst. Laboratories are more automated than ever with advances in health care informatics and an unprecedented amount of information being shared with patients.
For example, a few weeks ago I had some blood work done and within hours I received a notification that results were available in the EMR application installed on my phone. Once I logged in, the results appeared with eye-catching visuals displaying color coded reference ranges (low, normal, and high flags) and arrows indicating where my values fell within the ranges. Laboratory information analysts work with various teams supporting IT systems, but can also be embedded within EMR groups to create visuals and help make sense of laboratory data for various platforms.
In addition to working within hospital EMR groups, information analysts play a key role in laboratories with middleware systems or an automation line. They can assist with developing and validating new testing platforms, troubleshooting communication issues between systems, generating reports, and analyzing data. Laboratory technologists make great information analysts given their engrained critical thinking skills and step-by-step approach to problem-solving.
Career opportunities in laboratory operations
If you are someone who enjoys multitasking and managing different areas of the lab, then a career in lab operations and quality may be for you.
Laboratory operations oversees the entire enterprise to ensure that customers are being provided quality services—like the control tower at an airport. In this regard, customers may be patients, physicians, other labs, different departments within the same laboratory, or the organization itself. As a laboratory operations manager or expert, you ensure that all day-to-day activities run smoothly, from strategy, finance, HR, and supply chain, to equipment, personnel, IT, technical aspects, etc. To be successful in this role, you will have to work with different teams, communicate effectively with both your supervisors and direct reports, continually learn new processes, and facilitate decisions between groups.
Developing a solid decision-making process is key
One way to ensure customers receive quality services is being able to make sound decisions about day-to-day lab operations Having a solid decision-making process is the most important skill that someone who aspires to become a leader can acquire.
Decisions sometimes need to be proactive in nature, such as anticipating when clients’ needs may not be met or foreseeing challenges with a particular process or workflow.
Alternatively, decisions may be reactive in nature, such as when a workflow goes wrong, requiring service recovery or corrective action to prevent patient impact. Other times, when considering a lab’s needs, an operations manager may find opportunities to improve work processes or retrain staff. Once identified, it’s the manager’s responsibility to ensure the appropriate corrective actions are taken. Whatever the case may be, you will never be bored as part of the operations team.
For the medical laboratory community, a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic may be finally receiving the recognition and appreciation deserved. For those seeking to make a career in clinical laboratory sciences the path is clear—with a diversity of fulfilling opportunities, it’s a great time to be a medical laboratorian.