American Society of Clinical Pathology study cites better pay and lack of skills as main barriers to recruiting MTs, CLSs, and MLTs

Staffing shortages of medical technologists (MT) continue to be a significant problem for clinical laboratories across America. Moreover, the vacancy rates of qualified clinical laboratory scientists required to properly staff medical laboratories are increasing. These findings were released recently by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

At the management level, it was reported that recruiters are finding it particularly hard to fill supervisory positions in Histology Laboratories and Blood Banks. Further, experts predict that Chemistry, Immunology and Histology labs will suffer most over the next five years as Baby Boomers retire in ever-increasing numbers.

(Sourced from the ASCP survey.)

These and other dire warnings result from a survey conducted by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), which was reported in the May 2011 issue of LabMedicine. ASCP’s vacancy survey has been conducted annually for decades and provides a useful benchmark in the year-to-year trends in vacancy rates for MTs, CLSs, and other laboratory scientists.

Foreboding Statistics Signal Difficult Times Ahead for Clinical Laboratories

The ASCP survey is titled “American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2011 Vacancy Survey of U.S. Clinical Laboratories.” The researchers polled 16,274 employees who hold 17,674 positions in 1,719 departments at 625 facilities in America. The startling results showed vacancy rates of:

  • 11.6% (blood banking)
  • 9.81% (histology)
  • 8.62% (chemistry)
  • 5.56% (immunology)
  • 5.14% (cytology)

The survey also revealed that:

  • 20% of blood banking and histology labs spend more than a year filling vacant supervisory positions,
  • Night positions are hardest to fill,
  • Immunology and phlebotomy have as much trouble filling day positions as they do night positions,
  • Hospitals with 100 beds or less have the highest vacancy rates,
  • Hospitals with 300-499 beds have the lowest rates,
  • By region, the Far West has the highest number of vacancies,
  • The South Central Atlantic region has the lowest vacancy rate,
  • Immunology has the highest percentage of Boomers expected to retire within five years,
  • Anatomic pathology and phlebotomy have the lowest number of Boomers expected to retire within five years,
  • Vacancies at the staff level in the histology and microbiology departments take longest to fill,
  • The hardest to fill positions are at the supervisory level in blood banking and histology.

Respondents to the survey sited “better pay and benefits at other area laboratories” and a “lack of necessary education and skills to perform the work” as the key reasons their labs had difficulties finding and retaining qualified personnel.

Additionally, many labs fail to employ “recruitment or retention initiatives” to attract new employees.

The Clinical Laboratory Testing Industry Needs Long-Term Solutions

The survey also revealed clinical laboratory employers’ preference for hiring MLS/MT/CLS credentialed candidates, especially for supervisory positions. Certification appears to be a key element in most labs’ recruiting strategies, as well as when awarding promotions.

Thus, individuals seeking employment in clinical laboratories across America—especially those candidates seeking supervisory positions—should consider the advantage of pursuing certifications they might not hold, to increase their value to potential employers.

Regular readers of Dark Daily will recall an article published on April 13th titled “Bad News for Clinical Pathology Laboratory Workers: Salaries Not Keeping Pace with Cost of Living Increases,” in which we reported on the increasing disparity between laboratory salaries and the standard cost of living.

According to the Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO) salary survey on which that article was based, just 42% of laboratory professionals received an annual increase of between 2% and 4%. Another 20% received 2% or less. And, 24% of laboratorians received no salary increase at all in 2010! This does not bode well for an industry so challenged to find and retain qualified personnel.

“The laboratory workforce shortage has many dimensions,” said M. Sue Zaleski, MA, SCT(ASCP)HT, Incoming Chair of the ASCP Council for Laboratory Professionals in an ASCP press release. “Understanding the reasons for it will be essential in planning a systematic strategy to address the issues at hand. Laboratory organizations, government agencies, clinicians and many other stakeholders need to coordinate to formulate a long-term solution.”

Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists might want to inform their staff that certification is a key element to their winning promotions within their labs. As the staff shortage in the clinical laboratory industry grows worse, attracting and retaining qualified personnel will rely as much on what the medical laboratory offers in compensation, working environment and career path, as it does on what the candidate brings to the table.

—Michael McBride

Related Information:

ASCP Vacancy Survey Reveals Pay, Education, and Retirement as Laboratory Staffing Challenges

American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2011 Vacancy Survey of U.S. Clinical Laboratories (LabMedicine)

Bad News for Clinical Pathology Laboratory Workers: Salaries Not Keeping Pace with Cost of Living Increases (Dark Daily)

Salary survey offers view of lab industry (MLO magazine)