Hospital and independent laboratories can expect stiff competition from biotech companies and molecular diagnostics developers for specialized CLSs and MLTs

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a healthcare training program has graduated its first students trained as Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLS) or Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT) new medical laboratory This harvest of clinical laboratory workers is the result of a collaboration of private employers and academia, funded by a federal Labor Department grant.

Last fall, San Jose State University (SJS) used a $5 million federal grant to launch a pilot program to train healthcare professionals, including CLSs. California State University in Los Angeles, and Cal Poly in Pomona launched similar programs. (See Dark Daily, “$5 Million Federal Grant Funds Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training at San Jose State University”.)

New Clinical Laboratory Scientists Finish Their Training

This training program recently graduated its first cohort of medical technologists, or clinical laboratory scientists (CLS), as they are called in California.

Supporters of this training grant project wanted a program focused on skills needed to process molecular diagnostic tests, reported the San Francisco Business Times in a story it published on September 14, 2012. Technological advances in clinical diagnostics, particularly in the area of personalized medicine, have increased the demand for CLSs, MTs, and MLTs trained in these areas.

Both diagnostic test developers and medical laboratories need greater numbers of skilled laboratory workers to run the complex equipment required in molecular diagnostics and genetic testing. The new training programs created a specialization within the CLS designation that focuses on skills needed to process these tests, SFBT reported.

Because the Silicon Valley is such a hot bed for biotech, it is not surprising that the available pool of medical technologists, clinical laboratory scientists, and medical laboratory technicians is not large enough to fully staff both biotech companies and hospital laboratories. This is one reason why local universities and colleges are collaborating with hospital labs and biotech firms to expand the capacity of area training programs for skilled medical laboratory workers. (Photo by UTMB.edu.)

Because the Silicon Valley is such a hot bed for biotech, it is not surprising that the available pool of medical technologists, clinical laboratory scientists, and medical laboratory technicians is not large enough to fully staff both biotech companies and hospital laboratories. This is one reason why local universities and colleges are collaborating with hospital labs and biotech firms to expand the capacity of area training programs for skilled medical laboratory workers. (Photo by UTMB.edu.)

The new graduates spent 52 weeks in the training program. That included 32 hours per week of on-the-job training in participating laboratories. They had an additional eight hours per week of classroom instruction.

A shortage of laboratory sponsors means that there are more applicants for the program than there are slots. “We need more clinical sites to sustain the program,” stated Lori Lindburg, Executive Director of the BayBio Institute, in an earlier story published by the SFBT. The institute is part of BayBio, the trade group for Northern California life sciences companies.

Labs Must Outbid Biotech Companies for CLS/MTs and MLTs

Growth in demand for MT/CLSs and MLTs by biotech companies means that clinical laboratories face ever greater competition when recruiting and hiring for these positions. Commercial companies regularly vie with hospitals and medical laboratories for hard-to-find laboratory workers.

“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 [clinical] lab if they want,” observed Denise M. Harmening, Ph.D., MT (ASCP), CLS. (NCA), Adjunct Professor, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Rush University, Chicago, Illinois. Harmening was quoted in an online article on the American Association for Clinical Chemistry  website. (See Dark Daily, “Biomedical and Molecular Diagnostics Firms Compete To Hire Already-Scarce medical Laboratory Technologists”, September 14, 2011.)

Hospitals can often offer stronger benefits packages and greater job security. But biotech companies generally can afford to pay salaries that can be up to 50% greater to entice clinical laboratory workers away, according to a recent NBCNEWS.com article. “[W]e can probably continue to poach from the hospitals,” observed Lindburg in the earlier SFBT piece. “[S]o it’s probably more of a problem for the hospitals.”

Nationwide, about 11,000 new skilled medical laboratory workers are needed each year. That’s according to Irina Lutinger, MPH, FACHE, MT (ASCP), Senior Administrative Director for Langone Medical Center at New York University. She is a spokeswoman for the American Society for Clinical Pathology and was quoted in a recent NBCNEWS.com article. However, the system currently only graduates 6,000 medical laboratory professionals annually.

With swift advances in personalized medicine already happening, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will want to be more proactive in developing their strategies to recruit, hire, and retain these highly-prized medical laboratory workers.

—Pamela Scherer McLeod

Related Information:

Clinical lab diagnostics jobs go begging: $60,000

Lab worker shortage threatens hot industry

$5 Million Federal Grant Funds Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training at San Jose State University

May 2011 Clinical Laboratory News: Trends in Recruitment and Retention

West Nile outbreak stresses lab testing limits, delays diagnosis

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