Supporting the Laboratory Starts Here
The lab is in the spotlight – but it’s our job to use that attention for good
E. Blair Holladay | | Opinion
The past two years, as we’ve battled a global pandemic, the world has become well aware of the role the laboratory plays in patient care. Prior to the pandemic, patients – and even other members of the healthcare team – may not have known or understood the depth of knowledge and care pathologists and medical laboratory scientists provide. As testing and diagnosis for COVID-19 continues to increase and we continue to develop vaccines and conduct the essential research needed to continue the fight, the laboratory is no longer in the shadows.
And we have not sat back and basked in the glow of attention. We knew that this was a time to capitalize on our spotlight by ensuring that, once the pandemic recedes, the laboratory remains a very visible part of a patient’s journey and is understood as an essential partner in healthcare. One aspect of this effort entails leveraging the research and insight we’ve gathered and applying it to the advocacy we do on behalf of pathologists and medical laboratory scientists around the world.
In 2021, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) completed a groundbreaking clinical research study with the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies that provided insight into the needs of the laboratory and the laboratory workforce (1). The study offers innovative strategies to address these needs and provides guidance for continued support and advocacy for pathologists and medical laboratory scientists; it has been widely disseminated to educate and advise our healthcare colleagues and the industry as a whole on the critical needs – and the importance – of the laboratory. Pathology and laboratory medicine are facing a workforce shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. This is not widely recognized by healthcare leaders, but it should be. Ultimately, a lack of qualified medical laboratory scientists will have a grave impact on health systems and patients’ healthcare journeys. Those systems and healthcare partners who do not recognize that fact and act on that do so to their own – and their patients’ – detriment.
ASCP also recently released its 2020 vacancy survey of medical laboratories in the United States (2). This biennial survey is critical to informing our advocacy efforts and our most recent data shows how the pandemic has disrupted the staffing of clinical laboratories and the flow of new graduates into the workforce. Further data shows that the laboratory has already lost a good deal of employees who harbored a wealth of experience. Without a steady pipeline of qualified new employees, patients are at risk. How we can better develop a strong and sustainable workforce is central to our efforts in supporting the laboratory.
There is still a lot of work to be done – to develop a solid laboratory workforce, to raise the visibility of the laboratory, and to leverage the influence pathologists and medical laboratory scientists have on patient care. We look forward to the challenges that lie ahead and to the knowledge we will gain by overcoming them. As we do so, we know we will be creating a field that is #StrongerTogether.
- EC Garcia et al., “The clinical laboratory workforce: understanding the challenges to meeting current and future needs” (2021). Available at: https://bit.ly/3ApdkET.
- E Garcia et al., “The American Society for Clinical Pathology 2020 Vacancy Survey of Medical Laboratories in the United States,” Am J Clin Pathol, [Online ahead of print] (2021). PMID: 34864855.