Blame it on the recession of 2008-2010, but the findings are not auspicious for medical laboratories

Salaries and compensation paid to medical technologists (MT) and other skilled clinical laboratory professionals are not keeping pace with yearly increases in the cost of living. This is distressing news for every pathologist and clinical laboratory manager concerned about the constantly growing shortage of MTs and Clinical Laboratory Scientists to staff the nation’s medical laboratories.

For example, one recent national salary survey determined that 24% of laboratorians received no salary increase in 2010! About 42% received an annual increase of between 2% and 4%. Another 20% received just 2% or less. This survey also reported that 28% of medical laboratory professionals received bonuses. These bonuses were based on their salaries or days off in lieu of extra pay. Overall, however, since 2008, this salary survey concluded that salaries for clinical laboratory professionals have increased since 2008.

The salary survey reported above was conducted by Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO). MLO magazine conducts an annual salary survey of the clinical laboratory industry. This year, 2,375 MLO subscribers between the ages of 22 and 80 responded to the survey, with the majority of respondents in their late 50s.

(Average salaries by location. Sourced from MLO-Online.)

(Average salaries by location. Sourced from MLO-Online.)

Typical Salaries for Medical Laboratory Professionals for 2010 (Rounded to the Nearest Dollar Amount)

The type of job, the number of years in the industry, and the regional location all contributed to differences in salaries for similar job types. According to the MLO survey, the following jobs averaged these salaries. Your experience may vary:

Job Function: 2010 2008
$60,815. $53,781.
69,641
70,000.
  • Laboratory Info Systems Manager
70,236.
  • Physician Office Lab Director
70,500.
  • Section Manager/Supervisor
72,320. 67,057.
  • Other
80,394.
  • Lab Manager/Administrator
81,165.
  • Chief Medical Tech./Asst. Tech.
89,273.
  • Group Practice Mgr/Administrator
104,500.
  • Lab Director
105,419. 75,002.
  • Hospital Administrator
116,667.
119,250.
  • Physician
221,500.
244,160. 188,281.

As a point of contrast, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11 Edition provides salary information for medical laboratory professionals. In 2008, BLS published data showing that the median income for medical and clinical laboratory technologists was $53,800. In industries that employed the largest number of medical and clinical laboratory technologists, the wages were:

Industry: 2008
  • Federal Executive Branch
$59,800
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
54,200.
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
53,360.
  • Offices of Physicians
49,080.
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
47,890.

Job Satisfaction

MLO also polled respondents on their job satisfaction:

  • 40% were very satisfied,
  • 44% were somewhat satisfied,
  • 10% were somewhat dissatisfied, and only,
  • 3% were very dissatisfied.

According to MLO, “laboratorians overall are satisfied with their jobs.”

Personnel Shortages Reported by Many Clinical Laboratory Organizations

The shortage of qualified medical personnel is impacting the entire healthcare industry and clinical laboratories are no exception. MLO says that based on its survey data, medical laboratories are responding to the staffing shortage by automating and outsourcing some testing. In turn, this impacts job security. Of the clinical laboratories that responded to the MLO survey, the follow information resulted:

  • 35% reported being impacted by the shortages,
  • 14% reported outsourcing tests,
  • 50% automated or further automated procedures,
  • 54% intend to continue to automate.

Location, Location, Location Makes a Difference in Clinical Laboratory Salaries

MLO’s laboratory salary survey reported that the geographic area in which one lives directly impacts salaries. Medical laboratories in the Pacific and Northeast regions paid the highest salaries ($96,792 and $89,270 respectively). Clinical labs in the Mountain regions paid approximately $83,554. In the Midwest and the South, clinical laboratories paid $81,074 and $77, 312, respectively.

It should be noted that the clinical laboratory salary/compensation survey conducted annually by MLO magazine is based on self-reporting by readers who want to contribute information to the survey. However, because MLO has conducted this survey for many years, the relative change in the findings from one year to the next can be a useful guideline for understanding the compensation trends affecting the salaries paid to med techs, CLSs, and other skilled medical laboratory professionals.

Another respected study of medical technologist staffing and employment trends is produced annually by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). In a future Dark Daily e-briefing, we will assess the findings of ASCP’s latest study.

Finally, the fact that the compensation paid to the nation’s skilled clinical laboratory professionals is failing to keep pace with inflation in recent years—although not a surprise given the long-lasting recession of 2008-2010—is not auspicious for the entire medical laboratory testing industry. It will be difficult for both MT training programs and individual laboratories to attract talented individuals to work in laboratory medicine if annual compensation is declining relative to other career opportunities.

—Michael McBride

Related Information:

Salary Survey Offers View of Lab Industry

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition