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Shortage of American Lab Workers a Positive for Students

National Medical Laboratories Professionals Week to raise awareness of the work of those in the field of clinical laboratory science

April 23, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — It's that time of the year. Put on your white coats and light up your Bunsen burners for the National Medical Laboratories Professionals Week. The pronouncement of this more than 30-year-old event is more important now than ever before because the field is facing a serious lack of students qualified to work in the booming industry.

National Medical Laboratories Professionals Week — the fourth week in April — gives the industry a chance to influence people's understanding and appreciation of the work done in America's labs, and those who do it.

“As the role of laboratories becomes more complex and more important to patient care, it's increasingly vital to tell our story often and well,” according to a public statement by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

“Seventy percent of data that physicians use to make diagnoses is generated by Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLS). Accurate and specialized lab procedures are critical to maintaining quality health care,” said Richard Oliver, founding dean of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions.

It is now even more necessary to raise awareness of the role and importance of laboratory professionals because of a low number of graduates entering the field.

“Many CLS programs have closed because they were hospital-based programs and vulnerable to cost-reduction strategies implemented in hospitals to focus on patient care,” Oliver said. “While the number of programs is still inadequate, student interest in existing programs is at an all time high. Many students see the benefits of pursuing such a program.”

The ASCP led a large effort to encourage legislation that would address the issue, which led to the passing of ASCP-sponsored Medical Laboratory Personnel Shortage Act of 2005. The bill allocated more than $100 million for scholarships and loan repayment, public service campaigns, and grants to public, nonprofit and educational institutions.

For the period between 1998 and 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 53,000 new jobs in the field; 40,000 vacancies from those leaving; and 93,000 incremental positions to be filled by 9,000 people per year. Available to fill those positions will be an estimate of 4,990 students graduating from all the profession's schools and obviously not enough to fulfill the demand.

Jill Diener, an academic advisor in the MU School of Health Professions, said that the job shortages are not all bad in that they only mean more opportunities for students interested in the industry.

“In the School of Health Professions, we let students who have a strong interest in science know about this field and its possibilities. This program leads to a degree and specialized credentialing in Clinical Laboratory Science,” Diener said. “We hope National Medical Laboratories Professionals Week will expose more students to the career opportunities in this field and allow them to visit and tour sophisticated laboratory facilities.”