Published November 6, 2013
The University at Buffalo is gearing up to help meet the high and growing demand for laboratory sciences professionals, particularly medical technologists.
With backgrounds combining natural and health sciences, these health care specialists use their knowledge of applied biology and chemistry to help diagnose, treat and monitor diseases by performing diagnostic lab tests on patients.
“There are jobs available now and there will be many more jobs available in the future, but there won’t be people to fill them,” he says.
His department is partnering with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) in an effort to boost funding for these programs throughout New York State.
“There needs to be a statewide investment in training more teachers, in lab equipment and in hands-on training of future lab professionals,” says Tomaszewski.
In 2011 and 2012, all graduates of UB’s four-year medical technology program, also offered through the medical school, found jobs in their field.
According to an informal survey of 21 (out of 25) 2013 graduates, 20 are employed as medical technologists, including 16 in Western New York, three elsewhere in New York and one in Colorado.
Most find work in hospitals, public health labs, veterinary labs, pharmaceutical labs, physicians’ offices and research institutions.
Some graduates have put their knowledge to use in diverse settings and positions, including pharmaceutical marketing and sales, laboratory computer application development, police forensics and lab instrument manufacturing.
Annual starting salaries are approximately $50,000, and some employers beyond Western New York offer moving allowances or sign-on bonuses.
UB’s medical technology graduates are well prepared to enter the field, as they exceed the national first-time pass rate for the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) certification examinations, says program director Carol Golyski, MS, MT, CLS, clinical assistant professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences.
The hands-on medical technology program provides a lab-intensive curriculum with a 10-1 student-to-instructor ratio in lab courses (including graduate teaching assistants).
Faculty members in both natural and health sciences participate, including those who teach clinical chemistry, microbiology, hematology and medical genetics. Other courses include immunology, immunohematology and molecular diagnostics.
During their final semester, students complete 15 weeks of clinical rotations at labs and hospitals, allowing them to learn a variety of laboratory techniques and experience a range of clinical settings.
The current and future employment outlook for the field is bright.
A shortage of personnel is the biggest reason hospitals can’t find clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, according to a report published by the Center for Health Workforce Studies in March 2013. Yet, the center projects employment in the field will grow by 9 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Demand is expected to remain high as long as the supply of trained professionals fails to meet the growing need for lab services.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be more jobs than graduates through 2018, notes Golyski.
Each year, New York State requires approximately 640 new laboratory professionals, yet produces only 237 new graduates in the field.
The Affordable Care Act will add to the demand for clinical lab science professionals by providing health care coverage to nearly 30 million additional people. Each newly insured person could receive, on average, two blood tests a year, Tomaszewski says.
In addition, “there is wide recognition of the current demographic challenges in the field and they are only going to get worse,” he adds.
Golyski agrees. “A substantial graying of the medical technology profession is a major factor contributing to the shortage,” she says.
“Because the average age of practicing laboratory professionals is around 50 nationally and around 54 in Western New York, there is much demand for young workers right now.”
According to an ASCP survey, six out of nine laboratory departments reported that more than 10 percent of employees plan to retire within five years.