In Silicon Valley, biotech and molecular companies “raid” hospital laboratories to hire away MTs and CLSs

Competition for already hard-to-find medical technologists (MT) and clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) is heating up as biomedical and molecular development companies vie with hospitals and medical laboratories for these highly-prized workers. Growth in demand for MTs and CLSs by biotech companies means that clinical laboratories will face stiff competition when recruiting and hiring for these positions.

This competition for hiring MTs and CLSs was recently the topic of a story in the San Francisco Business Times (SFBT). Molecular development companies in the Bay Area want to hire qualified clinical laboratory professionals. The demand pressure from this emerging sector is driving up wages and further stressing the capacity of underfunded job-training programs, according to the article.

In his interview with the San Francisco Business Times about the shortage of clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) and medical technoligists (MT), Pierre Cassigneul, President and CEO of XDx Inc., a gene-testing firm declared that “We are happy to pay, but the issue is really getting enough of those people.” (Photo by Spencer Brown of SFBT.)

In his interview with the San Francisco Business Times about the shortage of clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) and medical technoligists (MT), Pierre Cassigneul, President and CEO of XDx Inc., a gene-testing firm declared that “We are happy to pay, but the issue is really getting enough of those people.” (Photo by Spencer Brown of SFBT.)

“We really do have a crisis,” said Lori Lindburg, Director of the BayBio Institute, the Northern California life sciences industry trade group, according to the article. “The problem is, we can probably continue to poach from the hospitals,” Lindburg said, “so it’s probably more of a problem for the hospitals.”

Since the early 1990s, several factors have fueled the growing shortage of qualified medical laboratory personnel. In a report issued by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), these reasons include:

  • an increase in the number of patients needing laboratory services which creates a larger volume of clinical laboratory tests to be performed;
  • a decrease in the number of training programs for MTs, CLSs, and other technical positions in laboratory medicine; and,
  • an increased number of retirements by the graying medical laboratory workforce.

Biotech Companies Want to Hire Medical Technologists and CLSs

Technological advances in diagnostics, particularly in the area of personalized medicine, are changing the structure of the diagnostics industry, according to a report by ARCA biopharma, Inc., a Colorado-based biopharmaceutical company. New technology is expanding applications and driving continued growth in the specialized testing market, the report says.

“We clearly need to grow the CLS ranks going forward,” said David Levison, President and CEO of CardioDx, a genomic diagnostics company in Palo Alto, California, which employs less than 12 CLSs, according to the SFBT article.

Executives at XDx Expression Diagnostics, in Brisbane, California, are factoring in the availability of qualified laboratory personnel in plans for future growth and expansion. “The ability to find enough CLS graduates to fill positions… will play into the decision,” said Pierre Cassigneul, President and CEO of XDx, a molecular diagnostics company which employs seven CLSs, according to the SFBT article.

“Because these workers are in high demand, they get paid more,” said Cassigneul in the article. “We are happy to pay,” he added, acknowledging that the problem is finding enough qualified workers.

“[R]etaining staff can be…daunting as more opportunities open up in other fields for those with lab training,” said Denise Harmening, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Rush University, Chicago, Illinois, in an online article on AACC’s website.  “There has been a tremendous expansion of the areas in which these trained individuals have transferable skills, so they have a lot of options to get out of the lab if they want,” she added.

Industry, Academia Partner in Innovative MT and CLS Training Programs

Hospitals have typically provided the internship component and the $50,000 to $100,000 cost of training a CLS student, according to the article in the SFBT. The number of such internships determines the number of slots the training programs can provide each year. As the molecular diagnostics industry grows, it plucks more CLS program graduates from hospitals, training them specifically to handle molecular testing.

Neither the capacity of CLS training programs, nor existing curricula have kept pace with the changes in the diagnostics market. As stated in an article on BayBio’s website, although 844 CLSs in California will be eligible for retirement in the next four years, the Golden State only graduates around 125 CLSs each year, according to a 2010 survey of California hospitals.

The expected shortage of CLSs is particularly startling because there are so few accredited educational programs in the state to train these workers, the BayBio article stated.

Acting on those concerns—and thanks to funding from a federal stimulus package grant—BayBio is working with San Jose State University to launch a pilot program this fall that will streamline training for CLSs. This training will be geared specifically for molecular diagnostic labs, according to the SFBT article. Similar targeted-industry CLS programs will begin this fall at California State University, Los Angeles, and Cal Poly.

Hospital laboratories and pathology groups should take this growing evidence of increased competition for scarce medical laboratory workers as a signal that competition for MTs and CLSs from private sector companies will only increase in coming years. In response to this development, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should be rethinking the strategies their medical labs use to recruit, hire, and retain medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists.

—Pamela Scherer McLeod

Related Information

Lab worker shortage threatens hot industry

New diagnostics: Advances in immunoassay technology, genomic testing are poised to change industry structure (PDF Report)

Trends in Recruitment and Retention

2010 Survey of California’s Allied Health Workforce survey

How to Solve Your Lab’s Med Tech Recruitment, Hiring, and Retention Problems

The Dark Report: 10 Strategies to Boost Med Tech Recruiting