Medical Staff Shortages

Medical Laboratory
Medical Laboratory Scientist with Patient Samples

The term “tech crunch” takes on a completely different meaning when you are working in a dangerously understaffed medical laboratory. Extra points go to those laboratorians who are also dealing with outdated machinery and ridiculously tight working spaces. This leads to extreme stress, medical errors, and further decline of the field.

The current Medical Technologist (aka Medical/Clinical Laboratory Scientist) shortage has largely gone unnoticed by the public due to the nature of the medical laboratory profession. Typically, medical lab professionals are not outgoing or brash about their position, either. As a Medical Laboratory Scientist, I know quite well how this situation plays out.

Healthcare fields are all feeling the crunch of being overworked and understaffed. Most people just don’t realize the importance of us lab rats behind the scenes analyzing all of their lab tests. I even spoke with nurses who did not understand what I do. If your own healthcare team members do not realize your value, then how can you expect society to understand?

Who performs your lab tests?

Medical Technologists, Medical or Clinical Laboratory Scientists, Medical laboratory Technicians, we have many different names but we all perform your lab tests. You might think labs are done by doctors or nurses. We actually must go to college through an approved program of study in laboratory medicine. Then we complete clinical rotations before we are able to run your tests. After that we sit for a nationally recognized board of certification exam proving our capabilities. Even on the job, we continually perform competencies and blind testing to make sure we are doing our job right. We must also take part in continuing education to maintain our certification. Despite all of this, society misunderstands us.

The current medical laboratory workforce is declining.

Our lack of recognition and the terrible work conditions are driving people away from the medical laboratory field. With the extreme shortage increasing, we must make society aware of the dangers. We make more mistakes with fewer qualified personnel available to keep the lab running. When we are exhausted, sleep deprived, and stressed, we may miss important clues about your lab tests or even make serious clerical errors.

Medical laboratory professionals ensure your test results are accurate before releasing them to your healthcare provider. This entails equipment maintenance, quality control measures, peer data collaboration, and many other steps to verify those results are accurate. We must understand what those results mean and determine if they fit the patient profile. We have to draw on years of education and experience in order to release the right lab results to your provider. Sometimes we collaborate with your provider or pharmacist to determine proper treatment as well.

Medical staffing shortages are dangerous.

Would you want someone do all of that after working 60 hours or without sleep for two days straight? I certainly would not. When we are attempting to fill three positions at once, we will inevitably make mistakes. The wrong lab result could mean receiving the wrong medication. For instance, if you are given medication for a critically low potassium (that you don’t actually have) then your medication may kill you. This tech crunch could cost people their lives.

What can you do?

Recognize the role that laboratory workers play in your healthcare. Be understanding when you must wait on your lab test results. Encourage better business practices among healthcare organizations. If you are a provider or board member of a healthcare organization, understand the importance of treating your lab workers well. We must all work together for our patients.