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Medical Laboratory Professionals Week: Industry Profile and Trends

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Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is a great time to highlight the critical role this group of healthcare workers performs 52 weeks a year. They may not be as visible as doctors and nurses, but medical laboratory professionals play an integral and essential part in patient diagnosis and treatment. Although they are not often involved with patients, medical laboratory professionals work to identify and treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes, among many other health conditions.

Recent data shows the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. A new Aerotek and Talentstream Technologies Supply and Demand Report found there are currently 141,083 openings for medical laboratory professionals and only 55,966 candidates actively seeking employment in the industry. Jobsite CareerBuilder has seen the number of medical laboratory job postings continue to rise. The scarcity of talent offers tremendous leverage for those seeking jobs in the industry.

Aerotek Technical Recruiter Alexandra Hirt is looking ahead to the bigger picture. “This is a profession that needs to [determine how] to get more people going into this field, or we will have some serious issues in healthcare in 20 years. There are a large number of aging medical technician professionals and not enough new medical technicians coming out of school, along with ones that have 3-5 years of experience,” Hirt says.

Read on to learn more about this booming field — and what it has to offer. 

What is the medical laboratory field all about?
Medical laboratory technologists and technicians collect and test body fluids, tissue samples and cells to rule out disease and/or abnormalities. The tests these professionals perform and the results they analyze enable doctors to make accurate diagnoses and determine appropriate treatments for patients. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all decisions about a patient's diagnosis, treatment and hospital admission and discharge are influenced by laboratory test results.” As this statistic illustrates, the crucial work of medical laboratory professionals can be the difference between life and death. No wonder the profession topped Forbes’ September 2015 list of the Most Meaningful College Majors. “A staggering 97 percent of respondents found their work associated with this major to be meaningful,” staff writer, Kathryn Dill reports. 
 
Where do medical laboratory professionals work?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most medical laboratory technologists and technicians work in hospitals (56 percent), medical and diagnostic laboratories (17 percent) or physician’s offices (eight percent). 

Some medical laboratory professionals specialize in areas such as hematology, cytology, immunology or microbiology, while others are generalists. 

According to the Talentstream/Aerotek Supply and Demand Report, the top states to find jobs in the field are Texas, California and Florida. New York City, Houston and Los Angeles have the greatest number of job openings for medical laboratory professionals. 

What type of training is necessary?
Candidates can enter the field as a technician after earning a high school diploma and a two-year associate’s degree. Technicians must also pass a certification exam. Some choose to go on to earn their bachelor’s degrees to become technologists. Additional certifications enable professionals to specialize and become even more attractive to potential employers.

Aerotek recruiters who staff medical laboratory openings report that ideal candidates possess strong communication, problem solving and critical thinking skills. 

Aerotek’s Hirt adds that versatility is an important skill for candidates looking to succeed in the field. “Staff who are generalists are able to work more quickly,” she says. “They work with STAT tests quite often and know how to ‘generally’ do each part such as urinalysis, hematology, micro, chemistry [and more].” Having that broad understanding is essential when lives are on the line.   

How much do medical laboratory technicians and technologists earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical laboratory technicians earned median salaries of $38,370 and medical laboratory technologists earned median salaries of $59,430. Those who work in hospitals may tend to earn higher salaries. 

What are the most noteworthy trends in the medical lab technology field?
Several factors — an aging population with increasing diagnostic needs, the retirement of aging medical laboratory professionals and increased access to health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act — have coalesced to create an increased need for professionals with medical laboratory training.  

In fact, between 2014 and 2024, opportunities for medical laboratory technologists are expected to grow by 14 percent while opportunities for medical laboratory technicians during that same time period are projected to grow by 18 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In its report, “Building a Laboratory Workforce to Meet the Future: ASCP Task Force on the Laboratory Professionals Workforce,” the American Society for Clinical Pathology outlines the current state of the industry: “Our ever-increasing knowledge of disease prevention and management, coupled with new diagnostics, automation and information technology, is continually changing the services laboratory professionals provide. Scope of work is changing. While these developments present workforce challenges, they are also opportunities.”

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