By - December 19, 2023
Over the past year, ASCP has unveiled three major initiatives designed to support the medical laboratory workforce and foster the development of a quality- and patient-centric community of practice. Funded by a three-year, cooperative agreement grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in service of the CDC OneLab Initiative, these successful programs include:
A Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox, providing practical education and tools to laboratory directors and managers so they can demonstrate the value of their laboratory to hospital administrators and others who make funding decisions. The intent is to support laboratory leaders so they can advocate for higher staff salaries, hire additional staff, and assist in planning, quality improvement, and team building.
The toolbox was developed by three laboratory leaders and subject matter experts, including the clinical laboratory director for Torrance Memorial Medical Center, the first health system to be recognized in the Leading Laboratories program, an initiative of ASCP and The Joint Commission. The toolbox utilizes laboratory workforce feedback and best practices ASCP has collected to support laboratory leaders in effectively advocating for their laboratories’ needs.
A Microlearning series, a new approach to educate time-strapped adult learners by sending them an email every few days with two short, scenario-based questions pertaining to laboratory issues. This first microlearning series, Effective Test Utilization for Clinical Laboratories, focuses on effective test utilization best practices to support clinical laboratory professionals in strengthening and retaining long-term knowledge in this topic area. Recipients respond at their convenience and receive immediate feedback regarding their response to increase their knowledge and track their competence.
The Building Bridges Across the Laboratory Community webinar series highlights the collaborative efforts of a variety of laboratories (academic, public health, research, reference, and clinical) to develop innovative strategies to address public health emergencies and resolve workforce challenges.
“It is wonderful that the CDC recognizes there are not enough medical laboratory science students graduating from training programs, and there is a need to build laboratory capacity,” says Susan Harrington, PhD, D(ABMM), MASCP, MLS(ASCP)CM, chair of the ASCP Workforce Steering Committee. “In awarding the OneLab grant to ASCP to implement this initiative, the CDC is recognizing that ASCP is a leader in workforce initiatives and studies.”
She adds, “A lot of the CDC’s awareness for this need grew out of the pandemic. Health systems needed medical laboratory professionals to perform COVID-19 testing and there were not enough trained MLS professionals available to hire. So, they hired people with other degrees, such as biology and chemistry, and trained them on the job. The CDC wants to be prepared for the next pandemic and help clinical and public health laboratories to meet the testing capacity needs of today.”
The programs ASCP unveiled during Year 1 of the grant addressed enhancing laboratory visibility and creating a culture within the laboratory that nurtures the environment as the best place to work within the pathology and laboratory medicine field. The latter would be achieved by cultivating diverse, lifelong learners and the next generation of leaders.
The grant allows the CDC to access the subject matter experts that are available within ASCP and the Society’s member network as well as members’ professional colleagues who might contribute content to the CDC OneLab Initiative. For example, ASCP’s Scientific Director of the Center for Quality and Patient Safety, Sachin Gupta, PhD, MBA, MLS(ASCPi)MBi, LSSBB, CPHQ, contributed to the development of the microlearning series on effective test utilization. This training has been publicly rolled out and currently has hundreds of active participants. The ASCP Quality and Safety Steering Committee members and their laboratory teams will be involved in quality improvement, updating, and refinement of questions as future iterations of the training are launched.
The microlearning series on test utilization is a way to push out to ASCP members and others in the laboratory community the effective test utilization recommendations and best practices that ASCP has developed over the past decade as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign. It also educates laboratory professionals and pathologists on how to guide clinicians on selecting the most appropriate tests.
The microlearning series is like a mini module, where participants are asked to answer up to nine questions on, say, effective test utilization, every two days. If they answer a question wrong, they will be asked to answer the question again a week later. “The idea is that they have to learn more about that question, which reinforces their learning,” Dr. Gupta says. “The test utilization mini module ties into the topic of quality and patient safety.”
The module also provides explanations for each question as well as best practices. Participants can take the quiz on their cell phones or computers at any time, as the questions are distributed through an electronic platform.
“If we can educate our laboratory professionals and clinicians on appropriate testing, then they will be performing fewer inappropriate tests and that improves efficiency as well as patient outcomes,” Dr. Gupta adds. “It all ties back to quality.”
Another initiative of the Year 1 phase of the grant is the Building Bridges Across the Laboratory Community webinar series. Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CMSVCMMBCM, FACSc, who serves on the ASCP Workforce Steering Committee (WSC) and co-chairs the WSC subcommittee on Promotion and Visibility for Colleges and Universities, has co-facilitated this webinar series with ASCP Chief Medical Officer Ali Brown, MD, FASCP. Dr. Rohde helped contribute as a subject matter expert on the second of four Building Bridges webinars rolled out last year. His webinar focused on a project at Texas State University, where he is the associate director for the Translational Health Research Center, University Distinguished Professor and chair of Medical Laboratory Science, and Regents’ Professor of the Texas University State System.
A specialist in virology and microbiology, Dr. Rohde was asked by his university’s administration to help develop safety plans and other initiatives when the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hit, as well as act as the primary point of science communication for the university with the media. He collaborated with Dr. Juan Gomez (co-presenter for the webinar), of the Department of Physics, Shared Research Operations in Texas State’s College of Science and Engineering, to use its 3D printers to produce nasal swabs for testing. Dr. Rohde also worked with the College of Health Professions at Texas State University to donate masks, other personal protection equipment (PPEs), and ventilators to donate to four local hospitals that were inundated with COVID-19 patients.
“Everyone was doing their part,” he says. “Our Science and Engineering College pivoted from their regular duties to create materials that the hospitals desperately needed but were in short supply. It was a wonderful example of the university’s academic community collaborating on a project to save lives. The public health laboratory workforce and medical laboratory professionals are critical to the overall wellness of society.”
Other webinars during Year 1 of the Building Bridges series also focused on how laboratories and health systems found innovative ways to address the challenges they faced during the pandemic. Next year, the Building Bridges series will shift away from the pandemic to examine other topics, such as surge support for emerging outbreaks, laboratory twinning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the medical laboratory, as well as broader workforce initiatives.
Other projects for Year 2 of the OneLab grant initiative are still under development. In her role as chair of ASCP’s Workforce Steering Committee, Dr. Harrington says her committee learned that many individuals who were hired during the pandemic by laboratories desperate to hire more staff lack basic laboratory skills. That is because many laboratories unable to find medical laboratory scientists resorted to hiring individuals with a chemistry or biology degree.
Dr. Harrington points out that the CDC’s learning management system, CDC OneLab REACH, has many materials for training individuals who need basic medical laboratory skills. “Some are focused on microbiology or molecular biology, or basic laboratory safety. It has a lot of information that can be helpful to laboratories, particularly smaller laboratories or community or rural hospitals that often don’t have the extra training capacity if they are hiring someone without the requisite medical laboratory education.
“The CDC has learning modules that can assist in those areas,” she says. “So, Year 2 of ASCP’s OneLab grant will include adding to the current content by building a basic skills module so that new laboratory hires who have a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry but lack a specific medical laboratory science education can receive additional skills training online when they are onboarded.”
As a part of the activities conducted in Year 1 of the award, ASCP recruited feedback or subject matter expert contributions from members of the ASCP Workforce Steering Committee, Commission on Science, Technology, and Public Policy, Council of Laboratory Professionals, Council of Laboratory Management and Administration, Center for Quality and Patient Safety, DEI Steering Committee, and both Leading Laboratories and past Choosing Wisely champions. In addition, ASCP recruited 31 member volunteers to review or pilot test laboratory training content developed by the CDC in service of the OneLab Initiative. Furthermore, this work was highly collaborative across departments at ASCP, integrating staff support from the Institute for Science, Technology, and Policy, the Center for Global Health, Continuing Professional Development, and Marketing and Membership.
There is more to come as ASCP prepares for the second year of implementing this grant work in support of the CDC OneLab Initiative. ASCP is pleased to be able to harness the extensive technical expertise of its members and staff as leading laboratory educators and advocates in bringing the OneLab grant program to fruition.
To learn more about the CDC OneLab Initiative and access ASCP’s educational resources in service of this grant, visit https://www.ascp.org/SupportCDCOneLab.
ASCP communications writer