Local hospitals and biotech companies team up with San Jose State University to train more clinical laboratory scientists
Everyone is aware of the shortage of medical technologists (MT) and clinical laboratory scientists that plagues clinical laboratories in almost every region of the United States. It is widely-recognized that current training programs for MTs and CLSs fall short of providing adequate numbers of new workers to meet the demand by medical laboratories.
But it’s a different story in San Jose, California. That’s because San Jose State University (SJS) snagged a $5 million federal grant to fund its Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) Training Program and similar work training programs for healthcare professionals.
Training More Clinical Laboratory Scientists and Medical Technologists
The CLS Training Program, part of SJS’s Department of Biological Sciences, won the grant money through funds made available under the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. SJS is using these federal stimulus dollars to train more clinical laboratory scientists and other medical laboratory workers, according to an article published in the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal.
In recent years, Dark Daily and The Dark Report have reported on the serious shortage of qualified laboratory workers, including CLSs, medical laboratory technicians (MLT), as well as cytogeneticists and clinical genetic molecular biologists. Academics and industry insiders peg the gap at about 90,000 nationwide, with expectations that it will continue to increase, the Journal article stated.
“To fill the needs in California alone, we need to be training 850 people a year,” Michael Sneary, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, remarked in the Journal article. “At this point, we are training 300.”
Hospitals, Academia, Industry Band Together to Supply More CLSs
On its website, the SJS Foundation explains that the SJS CLS project involves an education-to-employment pipeline for 200 licensed laboratory professionals, including medical laboratory technicians (MLT), clinical laboratory specialists, clinical genetic molecular biologist scientists, and cytogeneticists.
At San Jose State University,“a key factor is partnerships with public and private organizations to ensure a well prepared pipeline of graduates who can readily contribute to the success of life science and biotech companies,” commented SJS President, Jon Whitmore, on the SJSU website.
These medical laboratory training programs will have the support and participation of approximately 45 educational institutions, job placement centers, health industry providers and clinical laboratories. Bay Area partners include The Bay Bio Institute, De Anza College, San Francisco State University, California Applied Biotechnology Center, Catholic Healthcare West, Kaiser Permanente, Valley Care Medical Center, San Jose-based Work-To-Future. Also included will be biotech companies such as Gene Security Network and Navigenics.
In addition to training students at SJS, the federal grant money will train students remotely through the California Statewide Biotechnology Clinic Laboratory Consortium Project. Students pay graduate school tuition for the year-long training program and can attend lectures at SJS or access them online.
Hands-on clinical laboratory experience is provided to the students by participating local hospitals, who each contribute $10,000 to the program. “With this funding, clinical internships will be developed in diverse locations including acute care facilities and reference labs in both rural and urban centers,” Gayrard stated.
More Student Applicants Than Available CLS Training Slots
The number of students wanting to apply for the training program, which requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field, far exceeds the capacity. The SJS CLS Training Program has slots for 15 to 20 students for each of the fall and spring classes. There were 120 applicants for the fall 2011 semester, according to Suzanne Gayrard, Acting Director of the training program. “That is up from well below 100 applicants who applied a few years ago,” added Sneary.
The number of clinical laboratory specialists being trained annually in the United States is 10,000 fewer than needed, said Blair Holladay, M.D., Executive Vice President of the Chicago-based American Society for Clinical Pathology, according to the Journal article.
In California, the scarcity of qualified medical laboratory workers is even worse than the nationwide shortage. While the national data shows 54 CLSs for every 100,000 people, California has only 34 for every 100,000, Sneary said in the article. The SJS training project will provide critical support to the clinical laboratory and biotechnology industry, added Gayrard.
A big advantage of the SJS program, especially in today’s difficult economy, is a guaranteed job at the end of the training period, added Sneary. Starting salaries in the Bay Area for the more skilled positions are $75,000 and top out at as high as $100,000.
The SJS CLS training program provides a good example of how academia, providers and industry are working together to create innovative programs to address the nation’s shortage of skilled medical laboratory workers. Clinical laboratory managers and pathology groups should take active steps in their own regions to come up with new ways to train, attract and retain these workers.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod