By - November 16, 2022
Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present an update of American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) activities to the Nebraska Spring Laboratory Meeting. An enthusiastic group, representing a variety of different clinical laboratory disciplines, attended this event. They also included some trainees currently enrolled in the clinical lab scientist training programs in our state. I was impressed by the quality and enthusiasm of these students. However, I was concerned that there were not nearly enough of them. Having been involved with the training program offered at my own academic teaching hospital, I know that it is not uncommon for these programs to have unfilled positions each year. A variety of reasons for this have been proposed over the years, but the fact remains that students are not choosing to take advantage of the excellent career opportunities available to individuals in this field. More on this later.
As part of my presentation at this meeting, I reviewed the key findings of the ASCP 2015 Wage and Vacancy survey.1
ASCP has surveyed the laboratory community biannually for the past 30 years, collecting information concerning hourly wages, open positions, staffing and hiring plans, and a variety of other data. This information is then organized and published to inform policy makers, laboratory managers, and training program directors on workforce trends, and to help identify potential shortages. Such shortages in trained personnel could jeopardize the availability of laboratory services in the future if steps are not taken to address them. One of the conclusions from the most recent survey suggests that it takes on average three to six months to fill open technical positions in our laboratories, and it can take up to one year to fill open manager positions. As a result of these shortages, the survey indicates that the average hourly wage is rising as labs compete for the limited number of experienced technical staff available.
We find ourselves in a position where we have difficulty filling some job openings, despite hourly wages increasing. Training programs that provide the specialized education necessary to be eligible for these positions are not able to fill their classes. It appears we have a real problem in getting our message out to junior high and high school students regarding the importance of what we do each day and the excellent career opportunities that exist in our field. ASCP is employing the Career Ambassadors 2.0 program to get the message regarding these career opportunities to high school and college students. These usually consist of a training program faculty member, a practicing lab professional, or sometimes even a pathologist making a visit to a high school or community college for a one-hour presentation about our profession. The Society recognizes individuals for these efforts, and special rewards are available for those who do an exemplary job. While important, these one-time messages are likely quickly overwhelmed by the many other activities and challenges of student life.
Some of my colleagues here at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have been working on a new program with our state department of education to bring high school science teachers together for a training course on career opportunities in our field. This group will be provided with curricular materials to incorporate into semester-long lesson plans for their students. This will provide a more sustained exposure to these careers, which they hope will stimulate student interest.
Students’ lack of awareness is indicative of the problem we have with the population in general. Most people do not know much about the role pathologists and laboratory staff play in our nation’s healthcare system. To increase the general public’s awareness of the importance of our work, the Society has been deploying resources from the recently created ASCP Foundation. Late last summer, a new video message was created, detailing the important role that pathology and laboratory testing has in our healthcare system. This short video was shown on a number of American Airlines flights. It is estimated that 2.4 million viewers saw this video, and it will be shown again this year. To reinforce this message, more video clips, including our Patient Champion video clips, are being prepared for dissemination via the Internet during 2018. Those who have not already seen the American Airlines video can find it at the link in the references.2 The Board of Directors has recognized this need to increase the visibility of our profession and has made this one of the cornerstone projects for the ASCP Foundation. You can anticipate that additional efforts in this area will be forthcoming as the Foundation continues to grow.
Finally, if we are to be successful in raising awareness about the importance of what we do and the problems that will arise if these anticipated workforce shortages were to occur, we need to be actively engaged with the policy makers at both the federal and state level. The ASCP Commission on Science Technology and Policy and the ASCP office in DC are continually surveying the political and bureaucratic landscape to identify issues that members of the Society need to be aware of and, if necessary, respond to. It is important that each of us take time to read the eAdvocacy messages and respond to the Action Alerts that we receive. Our greatest strength lies in our numbers and the diversity of our membership. In response to the recent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid request for information concerning revamping the personnel requirements for high-complexity testing, the ASCP Action Alerts and other efforts resulted in 8,500 public comments. This grassroots ability to quickly mobilize public commentary on issues is important if we want to protect the public and our profession from ill-conceived policies created by bureaucrats who have no understanding of what we do. Each of us needs to do our part to improve the public awareness and perception of the role that pathology and the clinical laboratory play in providing the information needed by their physicians. As our slogan says, we are “StrongerTogether.”
2017-2018 ASCP Foundation President