Medical Laboratory Science: A Vital and Struggling Profession
Medical Laboratory Science: A Vital and Struggling Profession
This petition acts as an open letter to the following licensing agencies and governing bodies of the United States of America; American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), American Medical Technologists (AMT), American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB), the U.S. state governors, and the U.S. Congress. It is written on behalf of those who are certified and licensed in the United States of America by the ASCP and AMT, in various medical laboratory science professional roles including, but not limited to; Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS), Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLT), Medical Scientists (MS), Medical Technologists (MT), Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLS).
For many decades, the United States has been in the midst of a silent but deadly crisis that has been lurking and ignored for far too long, and we are near a tipping point in the United States healthcare system. Here are some statistics it is time you become aware of. In the U.S. right now, there are approximately 335,000 certified individuals in the healthcare world who toil away in hospital basements, rural reference laboratories, or urban sprawling research complexes. We call ourselves many things, as our titles have changed several times over the years, but, as a whole, we are medical laboratory professionals. There are 188,000 clinical laboratories in the United States that service the needs of 350 million citizens, through close to 14 billion tests. This means each medical laboratory scientist is responsible for 1,129 citizens, along with the testing and results of 44,031 medical tests each year. Of those 188,000 clinical laboratories, 92,000 require their laboratory workers to be certified and licenced by the AMT or the ASCP.
To be certified as a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), we are required to have an average of 5 years of college education, equal to at least a bachelor’s degree with one year of clinical study. To be certified as a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT), we are required to have an average of 3 years of college study, equal to at least an associate’s degree. Many of us also have master’s degrees in order to be qualified for leadership roles within our organizations. Some of us even have doctorates. In addition, there are 13 states that require state-specific licensure on top of the normal requirements, that incur additional licensure fees. Each medical laboratory professional, on average, has $128,000 of college and educational expenses to cover the requirements of licensure and working in healthcare laboratories across the country, which is only $4000 less than the average expenses needed to become a Physician's Assistant. Medical laboratory professionals, on average, make $44,000 per year. Compare this to the average $75,000 per year nurses make, who require less average college education than laboratory professionals, which then translates to lower average educational expenses. In the last 25 years, the wage for medical laboratory professionals has increased by 9.5%, compared to 31% for nurses, and 28% for doctors. Meanwhile our educational requirements to practice in a healthcare laboratory have greatly increased in that same time period. Here is where the crisis comes in. The average age of a medical laboratory professional is 55 years old, with an average retirement age of 63. This means fewer and fewer individuals are joining laboratory science every year that passes. With the responsibility and stress our jobs already require, this amount of added work would be absolutely unsustainable. It would be devastating for hospital and commercial labs alike, who have already spent decades operating under severely understaffed, underrecognized, and underpaid conditions.
At this point, you may be asking yourselves, “Why do I care, and what does this have to do with me?” To answer that, perhaps it would be best to answer another important question- “What do medical laboratory professionals actually do.” Actually, it might even be easier to ask what medical laboratory professionals don’t do when it comes to our roles and expertise in healthcare. For licensure and certification, we are required to master the following subjects- hematology, urinalysis, parasitology, toxicology, laboratory safety and management, automated chemistry, blood banking, microbiology, molecular chemistry, immunology, and the pathology of human disease states. We also have to have a working knowledge of a wide range of medication and how it affects human health and conditions. The reason you can have faith in your doctor’s diagnosis is because laboratory professionals are providing the tools and accurate evidence every single day. We are the skeptics who hold your medical manufacturers to a higher standard. We are the critics who demand excellence and accuracy from every single aspect of healthcare, to ensure that the first result is the right result. We are the first line of defense between the American people and faulty information about their health. A monumental part of why the people of this country can trust the decisions of their doctors and nurses is because there are laboratory professionals who understand the results of their tests, and what it means for their well-being. We are the diagnosticians, investigators, engineers, researchers, mechanics, communicators, theorists and innovators of the medical world. We are the reason science moves forward, rather than stagnates or regresses. There is no one else in the healthcare system that can take over even a fraction of what we do in the medical laboratories across the country. If all medical laboratory professionals were to vacate their positions, 83% of all medical diagnoses would be nothing more than circumstantial guesses. Medical laboratories across the country would go dusty and unused, and medical research and utilization would all but cease. As amazing as our doctors and nurses are, it's time some of the credit goes where it is due. If we continue to be treated as nothing more than glorified "button pushers," you will lose us. If no strong action is taken, a mass exodus of laboratory professionals is unavoidable. Our backs have been bowed under the stress and responsibility for decades and it is getting worse, especially as this COVID-19 pandemic has placed even more strain on our understaffed and underpaid medical testing backbone.
Here is what we, medical laboratory professionals, are requesting and proposing from our governing bodies and certification agencies:
- An increase in the average wages for all medical laboratory professionals to better reflect our educational and licensure requirements, and to account for the lack of overall increase over the decades compared with the wage increase of other healthcare professionals. This wage increase will be for all current and future laboratory professionals.
- Increased efforts countrywide for the recruitment of more like-minded young professionals to study and join the medical laboratory science profession, that includes, but is not limited to; educational incentives, scholarships, tuition forgiveness, employer-based loan repayment incentives, and public awareness for this career path.
- Better support and pressure from our accreditation and certification agencies to keep medical testing in hospital laboratories and medical facilities that employ laboratory professionals, especially during a national crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently in the midst of.
- A transition from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) to a national certification agency that will be specific to medical laboratory professionals, and will be advocates for our individual professional needs- specifically the need for national laboratory operating standards, rather than individualized state-to-state standards. Here, we propose a movement to a group like the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (ASCLS).
Medical laboratory professionals are an endangered, dying breed and it is time to take action. We are understaffed, underrecognized, underpaid, and underrepresented, and if those of us in the laboratories across the country were to walk out tomorrow, the quality of healthcare across the country would plummet. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and our government is actively lobbying for hazard pay for our healthcare workers that are “on the front lines”- our doctors, nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, and anyone else who works with patients. But there is no mention of the quiet, unassuming laboratory professional in the bowels of our local hospitals and regional reference laboratories, 58% of whom engage in patient specimen collections, who takes those front line patient interactions and turns them into measurable and treatable results. There is no talk of the 3,200,000 COVID-19 tests that have been run by medical laboratory professionals over the last 3 weeks, culminating in 1 million hours of hands on time in labs across the country. You mention testing, and you point out what we should be doing or what we will be able to accomplish in the coming days. We do so much more than we are given credit for, and it’s time our vital roles in medical testing are acknowledged so that our career can have a future. You ask us to be the backbone of patient diagnoses, and then simultaneously pretend we don’t exist. We are exhausted, and we are ready to make a change- one that will benefit, not only our heathcare system and career, but also the 350 million citizens of this country and the medical progress we will be able to make in the future. This is a desperate cry for help from a group of professionals that have rarely asked for anything- we are used to being ignored, but we are hoping that today is a day for change.
United States Medical Laboratory Professionals, MLS, CLS, MLT, MT