Understaffed at work – and why it matters to you.

So, so, so, so tired.

We’ve been working so short for so long at work and it’s really wearing me out. We’re understaffed, and someone’s been off sick for a month, so we’re trying to run things with too few people. We’re doing a damn good job of it, but it’s exhausting everyone to their limits. Everyone is getting progressively more tired and cranky, myself included (hell, myself’s probably the worst one).

I hope it ends soon, but the heart of the problem is never going to go away. It’s only going to get worse. Nobody is entering the lab profession because they don’t know it exists and medical technology programs are being shut down in schools everywhere. A massive number of seasoned techs are approaching retirement and there are nowhere near enough new graduates to fill the vacancies. You’d think this would mean we’re in huge demand, with hospitals offering bonuses and juicy salaries to the relatively few techs out there, trying to entice them. But they’re not. Everywhere, everyone is trying to run their lab with fewer and fewer people, cutting costs as much as possible.

This article (worth reading in full) from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry has some statistics about the shortage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 there were 167,000 practicing clinical laboratory technologists, and a projected need for 21,000 more by 2016. “However, in 2005 only 2,079 people graduated from accredited programs, the number of which keeps shrinking,” explained Susan Gross, MS, MT (ASCP), Senior Supervisor, Clinical Laboratory, Chemistry/Toxicology at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California-San Francisco. “In 1975 there were 709 clinical laboratory science programs with 6,121 graduates; in 2005 there were 232 programs and 2,079 graduates”

The lab is important. So important. Most medical decisions are made based on lab results, and without techs there to run the instruments and read the slides and count the cells, you don’t have any results. We are the ones telling the doctors whether you have strep throat or the flu. We see the bacteria and white cells in your urine that tell the doctor you have a UTI. We’re the first to see the leukemia cells in your blood. We make sure you have compatible blood available in case your surgery gets complicated.

I know some of my friends reading this blog are also medical technologists (or clinical laboratory scientists, depending on where you’re certified). Please get out there and talk about the profession. Sign on at Labs Are Vital and get involved. Tell people who we are and what we do and why it’s an important job. We don’t have anyone out there fighting for us and singing our praises, so we’ll need to start doing it ourselves if we ever want any sort of respect and recognition.

From this American Society for Clinical Pathology article about their Wage and Vacancy Survey:

Exposure and awareness of the laboratory profession has had an effect on recruitment. A recent survey by the Coordinating Council on the Clinical Laboratory Workforce showed that of 4,500 students enrolled in a clinical science program, 75 percent were not even aware of the profession until after high school.

I personally didn’t know it existed until after my first University degree in a different field. I am sure that there are hundreds of other students who are like I was, loving science and the medical field, but not wanting to be a doctor or nurse. Someone needs to tell them there are more options!

I’ll get off my soapbox now. I promise I’ll go back to posting recipes and projects this weekend.

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