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ASCP Vacancy Survey Yields Surprising Results for Some States

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Increasing demand for medical care for an aging population is prompting rapid change in medical technology, coupled with anticipated increases in the volume of laboratory tests. This may require new workforce skills to meet future laboratory needs, according to the results of the ASCP 2012 Vacancy Survey, which will appear in the February 2013 issue of Lab Medicine. 

“I was surprised at the survey’s national and regional statistics for medical laboratory scientists, because it shows a lower number of vacancies than what we are truly experiencing in our own region.”
—M. Sue Zaleski, MA, HT(ASCP)SCT
2011–2012 Chair of ASCP’s Council of Laboratory Professionals

“I was surprised at the survey’s national and regional statistics for medical laboratory scientists, because it shows a lower number of vacancies than what we are truly experiencing in our own region,” says M. Sue Zaleski, MA, HT(ASCP)SCT, 2011–2012 Chair of ASCP’s Council of Laboratory Professionals and Lean Management Engineer in the Pathology Department at University of Iowa Hospitals, Iowa City, Iowa, who helped construct the survey.

“The survey showed national vacancy rates of around 7 or 8 percent for (non-supervisory) medical laboratory scientists. Our vacancy rates at the University of Iowa are running at about 10 to 11 percent.”

The University of Iowa Hospitals is implementing several new initiatives—opening a satellite laboratory, implementing a new laboratory information system, and installing a replacement chemistry analyzer and post analytical system—all of which put a strain on its existing resources, according to Ms. Zaleski.

David Glenn, MASCP, MLS(ASCP)CM, is Laboratory Manager of Pathology Services, PC, in North Platte, Neb., which serves 20 hospital laboratories in Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado.

“The laboratories that are understaffed do not have time to complete the survey,” he says. “The laboratories that are filling out the survey are probably better staffed.” Several hospitals that his laboratory serves do have unfilled positions for laboratory professionals, according to Mr. Glenn. 

The 2012 ASCP Vacancy Survey results provide a national snapshot of the laboratory workforce vacancy rate. The confidential survey has served as the primary source of information for academic, government, and industry labor analysts. Altogether, 935 laboratory supervisors responded to the survey, a statistically significant number that makes the survey valid for further analysis.

“We know there are variances by state and region,” says ASCP Director of Public Policy Andrea Bennett, MPH, MT(ASCP). “ASCP continues to refine the survey.”

For example, the Society stopped sending out the ASCP Wage and Vacancy Surveys at the same time; it was too time-consuming for busy laboratory supervisors to complete both at once. Now, the biennial surveys are staggered. Meanwhile, future ASCP Vacancy Surveys will include a breakdown of vacancy rates by state.

“Vacancy rates in some states and regions may show a greater percentage of vacancies compared to national data,” says Edna Garcia, MPH, ASCP Manager of Scientific Engagement and Research. “Factors may include the availability of qualified laboratory professionals, the presence of accredited laboratory training programs, annual salaries, and laboratory test volumes in those areas.”

Ms. Bennett surmised that the survey results showing a slight decrease in job vacancies across the laboratory professions may indicate that more employees are staying in their jobs, rather than retiring at age 65, because of the sluggish economy.

Results from past surveys show that laboratory medicine is a rapidly evolving field. For the 2012 survey, seven new departments—core laboratory, laboratory safety, molecular biology/diagnosis, reproductive medicine and genetics, and specimen collecting—were added to the 10 laboratory areas surveyed in 2010. 

“We included many more questions than before, and I think people want to drill down in more detail,” Ms. Zaleski says.

Even though laboratory professionals appear to be retiring later, there is still a significant need for more young professionals to enter the field of medical laboratory science.

“Everywhere in the lab, it is a very busy time, from the core laboratory to molecular diagnostics, and they’re being asked to conduct more tests,” Ms. Zaleski says. “Yet at the same time, we have to justify the expense of our lab training programs. Historically, training programs have closed as a way to cut costs. That is a well-recognized factor on why we have a challenge today in some regions of the country with obtaining adequate applications.”