High demand for medical laboratory technicians that exists throughout the country motivates some colleges to create training programs to meet this need
Clinical laboratory technicians will be interested to learn that US News and World Report (USNWR) recently ranked their work the 17th Best Healthcare Support Job and 86th of 100 in the magazine’s list of Best Jobs in 2023. The position also ranked “average” in upward mobility and flexibility, but “above average” in stress level. This squares with Dark Daily’s previous reporting on high levels of stress clinical laboratories are still experiencing following the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
The median pay, according to USNWR, is $57,800/year and can be as high as $74,530/year. The best paying cities for clinical laboratory technicians are all in California: Redding, Napa, Merced, San Jose, and San Francisco. And the best paying states are New York ($72,500), Rhode Island ($70,580), Connecticut ($70,220), Oregon ($69,330), and California ($68,450).
The graphic above, taken from the US News and World Report’s list of “Best Healthcare Support Jobs in 2023,” illustrates how the base salary for clinical laboratory technicians has risen over the past 10 years. Projections are positive for earnings and availability of clinical laboratory positions continuing to grow around the nation. (Graphic copyright: US News and World Report.)
Clinical Laboratory Technician a Growing Profession
The US News and World Report’s definition of this job drew heavily on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for its description of the position “Clinical Laboratory Technician.” The Labor Department clearly defines the difference between a clinical laboratory “technician” and “technologist” and USNWR carried that over into its analysis.
Accordingly, USNWR described this job category by stating “Clinical laboratory technicians are responsible for a number of tasks, including examining body fluids and cells and matching blood for transfusions. The job requires the use of sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters. With continued advancements in technology, lab work has become more analytical, so laboratory personnel should have excellent judgment skills. More complex procedures are reserved for clinical laboratory technologists, who must possess a bachelor’s degree. Technicians, who must hold at least an associate degree, often work under the supervision of technologists.”
Demand for clinical laboratory technicians spans the country and appears to be increasing.
The program is the result of a local hospital querying Trinity College about implementing just a program.
“It’s been about a year and a half now, getting it up and rolling,” Stephanie Tieso, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, Program Director Med Lab Sciences, Trinity College, told Quad-City Times. “I know both big hospital systems in the area are very excited about this coming on, and there’s definitely chatter in the lab community about this new program opening.”
Trinity’s program will be the only one of its kind within a 90-mile radius. The initial cohort will consist of 10 students. The Quad-City Times reports “Program majors will earn a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree and qualify to take the MLS certification exam upon program completion and graduation.”
The creation of this program at Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences is just one example of programs that could be needed all over the US in the coming years as demand for clinical laboratory workers grows.
Job Outlook Good but Burnout a Possibility
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook states, “About 25,600 openings for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.” However, the shortage may also be due to the well-reported worker burnout being experienced across the entire healthcare industry which was exacerbated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
This ebrief follows the story of Susanna Bator, a former clinical laboratory technician with the Cleveland Clinic and with MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio. Bator shared her story of working in various laboratories during the coronavirus pandemic in an essay she wrote for Daily Nurse titled, “The Hidden Healthcare Heroes: A Lab Tech’s Journey Through the Pandemic.” Bator’s essay is a personalized, human look at the strain clinical laboratory technicians were put under during the pandemic. Her story presents the quandary of how to keep these critical frontline healthcare workers from experiencing burnout and leaving the field.
“We techs were left unsupported and unmentored throughout the pandemic. No one cared if we were learning or growing in our job, and there was little encouragement for us to enter training or residency programs. We were just expendable foot soldiers: this is not a policy that leads to long-term job retention,” she wrote.
This validates US News and World Report’s statistic that the work of clinical laboratory technicians comes with an “above average” level of stress. For those who can handle it, however, the job has many benefits and provides multiple opportunities for growth.
But the burnout Bator and other techs encountered is very real. Hopefully more training programs like the one at Trinity College will become available to provide the learning and support lab techs need as we move into post-pandemic healthcare. As the US News and World Report article shows, clinical laboratory technicians are filling a critical need in the laboratory industry and new training programs will be instrumental to their success.
Recruiters should target five personas for hiring new talent and retaining existing staff, McKinsey says, a goal that would be challenging for clinical laboratories recruiting medical technologists
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups continue to struggle filling vacated positions with new hires and retaining adequate staff due to what has been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” The ongoing, pandemic-era phenomenon is seeing people leave their jobs in mass exodus and remains a characteristic of the 2022 labor market.
According to the US Department of Labor, 4.3 million people quit their jobs in January of this year. Of equal significance for hospital and health system medical laboratories with shrinking budgets, compensation rates are increasing for these positions at a steady pace.
This international economic trend continues to affect businesses across the country as workers leave their jobs in record numbers. Especially hard hit are hospitals and clinical laboratories, and recruiters seem at a loss as to what can be done to turn it around.
“This isn’t just a passing trend, or a pandemic-related change to the labor market,” Bonnie Dowling (above), Associate Partner at McKinsey, told CNBC. “There’s been a fundamental shift in workers’ mentality, and their willingness to prioritize other things in their life beyond whatever job they hold. We’re never going back to how things were in 2019.” Clinical laboratory recruiters can attest to that statement as they continue to struggle to fill open positions and maintain staffing levels. (Photo copyright: McKinsey and Company.)
Workers Are Unhappy and Unsatisfied
For their report, McKinsey surveyed more than 12,000 workers located in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Singapore to determine why they are resigning and what factors would sway them to remain in their positions.
Their findings suggest that 40% of the people in the workforce are unhappy and unsatisfied in their current jobs and are seeking better, more fulfilling employment opportunities. Among those workers who have recently resigned from a job, 41% said lack of opportunity for upward mobility and no pay or benefits was the top reason they quit.
The McKinsey analysts noted certain repetitive occurrences during the past year they attributed to the Great Resignation, which McKinsey calls the Great Attrition:
Reshuffling: Workers are resigning and taking positions in other industries, which is causing some industries to disproportionately lose talent.
Reinventing: Workers are vacating traditional employment and choosing nontraditional roles, such as temporary, gig, part-time work, or they are opting to start their own businesses.
Reassessing: Workers are leaving the workforce entirely to focus on other priorities, such as taking care of children or relatives, concentrating on self-care, or pursuing other interests.
Recruiters Should Focus on Five Unique Personas
As of June 30, there were 10.7 million job openings in the US, according to US Bureau of Labor statistics. And some industries, such as healthcare, are losing talent to other industries.
Among surveyed individuals who quit their jobs between April 2020 and April 2022 in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, 54% accepted a position within another industry or did not return to the workforce, according to McKinsey analysts.
The McKinsey report urges hiring managers to focus on five unique personas in their efforts to target and hire desired talent, and retain them as employees:
Traditionalists: Career-oriented individuals who are the mainstay of the classic labor pool. They are easier to find through common recruitment strategies, according to McKinsey, and are motivated by compensation, benefits, job titles, status, and opportunities for career advancement.
Do-it-yourselfers: These workers are typically 25 to 45 years old and value flexibility above all else when choosing jobs. They want autonomy to establish their own hours and the type of duties they will perform. This includes gig, part-time, and self-employed workers as well as full-time employees in nontraditional roles.
Caregivers: Workers who are at home due to other priorities, but who may be looking for an opportunity to re-enter the workforce. People in this group desire companies that are willing to work around their personal schedules. They could be coaxed back into the labor force with part-time options, four-day work weeks, flexible hours, and work-at-home positions.
Idealists: These workers tend to be in the 18- to 24-year-old age range, may be working part-time, or may still be students. These individuals value being part of a community and are most easily swayed by companies that have a strong organizational culture with an emphasis on meaning and purpose.
Relaxers: People who are not looking for work, but who could be convinced to return to the labor force under ideal circumstances. This group is mostly comprised of early- and natural-age retirees who still have productive years left. They represent the largest percentage of the latent workforce, McKinsey noted. Companies should consider seeking out these seasoned workers who may be more interested in meaningful work than a big paycheck.
“More employers have opened up their aperture in order to meet the yawning talent gap that they’re facing,” said Bonnie Dowling, Associate Partner at McKinsey and one of the authors of the report in an interview with CNBC. “They’re prioritizing skills over educational background or previous job experience, which is creating more opportunities across sectors for job-seekers.”
Four Strategies for Retaining Workers
Finally, the McKinsey report offered four strategies that companies can focus on to retain their existing talent and avoid resignations:
Sharpen traditional employee value status through compensation, benefits, career advancement potential, reputable job titles, and the overall prestige of the organization.
Build creative, nontraditional, value propositions revolving around flexibility, a strong company culture, and more personalized methods of career progression.
Expand and tailor talent-seeking approaches to woo nontraditional workers.
Invest in more meaning and belonging in the company’s culture to build stronger teams and relationships among workers.
“It’s everything from embedding flexibility in our credo to reassessing how we value our employees and provide them with the resources they need to do their job. All employers have the capacity to make these meaningful changes,” Dowling said. “But we have to start taking action, as opposed to sitting back and hoping that things are going to return to a ‘pre-pandemic norm’ because all signs point to the fact that they won’t.”
The ongoing labor shortage is affecting many industries, but it has been especially hard on healthcare and clinical laboratories.
Clinical laboratory recruiters may want to begin looking at the shifting economic scene in the US as an opportunity to restructure workplaces and create a better model to avoid resignations and retain workers.