Laboratories are facing the growing challenge of not only performing an increasing volume of essential diagnostic testing with less financial reimbursement, but also staffing these laboratories with highly-qualified personnel. The demand for COVID-19 diagnostic testing has received national attention, including in The New York Times last December, where author Dr. Katherine Wu described the realities of the dwindling medical laboratory workforce as invisible to the public and overworked.1 The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average growth rate for medical laboratory scientists and technicians at 7 percent, while the average growth rate for other occupations is projected to be approximately 4 percent, for the years 2019–2029.2
This growing demand for medical laboratory science professionals is not being met by the number of professionals currently entering the field. Undeniably, more qualified laboratory professionals are needed to alleviate the already fatigued workforce. Surveys conducted by the ASCP on wages3 in 2019, and on current challenges in the workforce4 in 2020 have provided data to start answering some crucial questions, including: How can we recruit the much-needed next generation of clinical laboratory professionals?
Clinical laboratory internships have been a reliable method to get people in the door. Yet, clinical laboratory educators report difficulties in securing adequate numbers of clinical internships for their medical laboratory science students.3 The increasing challenge to place laboratory students in clinical internship sites, compounded by the relatively small student cohort size, makes it even more difficult to meet the current and future needs of the laboratory workforce. Members of the laboratory leadership team must take an active role in supporting medical laboratory education programs and building a highly-qualified workforce. How can laboratory leadership leverage clinical internships to recruit and retain aspiring laboratory professionals?
This article will examine the value of clinical laboratory internships and their benefits for existing employees’ professional development and retention, as well as include some practical strategies to ensure your team’s success.
Let’s take a look under the scope:
Become a clinical affiliate/internship site
To solve the workforce challenges, your laboratory has to be open to providing a much-needed clinical internship site for medical laboratory education programs. These aspiring medical laboratory professionals will gain invaluable hands-on learning and training in the laboratory. This in-house training has the potential to translate into a new hire. An additional, sometimes overlooked, benefit to building relationships with training programs is that this partnership offers laboratory managers expanded access to more prospective candidates. Many of these training programs have large networks and are willing to advertise your open positions, potentially broadening your applicant pool beyond the intern you trained in your laboratory. For managers of rural laboratories with limited access to local pools of qualified laboratory personnel, this additional benefit may be vital for success.4
Offer professional development for current laboratory personnel
The majority of laboratory professionals are interested in more than adequate financial compensation. These laboratorians seek opportunities for professional growth. Your management team has to be willing to create a work environment for better staff retention. Hosting clinical internships not only brings in your next potential employee, but also provides opportunities for professional development of existing staff. Involve your staff in developing resources and educating new laboratory professionals. Challenge your laboratory personnel to be their best and continue growing by educating the next generation.
Don’t let a crisis go to waste
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the essential role of the laboratory in diagnostic testing, and its direct impact on hospital operations and staffing. Take your C-suite (high-level executives) on a tour of your laboratory and show them the COVID-19 testing. Discuss the staffing shortages that impact this testing and hospital operations. Make sure you mention that the organization relies on COVID-19 test results to allow hospital employees to return to work. And while you have your C-suite’s ear, ask for additional funding and resources to increase internship opportunities for aspiring laboratory professionals. Emphasize that internships will help build your current team and ensure its future. Don’t set your team up for failure—make sure you have the resources to succeed.
Keep moving forward
Establishing a high-quality internship program at your organization will be worth the time and effort—in addition to attracting new talent, it creates an opportunity for existing staff to progress in their careers. Taking an active role in supporting medical laboratory education programs can be a beneficial solution for many organizations while supporting the next generation of aspiring medical laboratory professionals.
- Wu, Katherine J. “‘Nobody Sees Us’: Testing-Lab Workers Strain Under Demand.” The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/health/coronavirus-testing-labs-workers.html.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians.” Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2021, Bernan Press, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm.
- Garcia, Edna., et al. “American Society for Clinical Pathology's 2019 wage survey of medical laboratories in the United States.” American Journal of Clinical Pathology 155.5 (2021): 649–673. doi:10.1093/ajcp/aqaa197
- Garcia, Edna., et al. “The clinical laboratory workforce: Understanding the challenges to meeting current and future needs.” American Society for Clinical Pathology and Center for Health Workforce Studies, University of Washington