Lab Management University (LMU) is not an ivy-covered hall of learning, yet the impact it has on its graduates is profound all the same. The brainchild of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and the American Pathology Foundation (APF), LMU is a year-old online certificate program for laboratory professionals, pathology residents and pathologists interested in honing management and lab administration skills.
"When I was a resident coming through training, I felt an acute lack of exposure to -- or opportunity to develop skills in -- leading and managing a laboratory," explained Lewis Hassell, MD, of University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Hassell, a member of ASCP and a past board member of APF, was part of the effort to create LMU, a collaborative initiative of the two medical societies.
"We spent a lot of time in the planning stages defining the learning gaps and we realized that residents coming out of training, for example, have very little management expertise coming into practice. That was our initial 'target audience,'" said Hassell.
But that was just the beginning. Next the founders realized there was also a big gap on the more technical side of the lab. "There was no good ramp-up to skilled development among future laboratory managers and directors," said Hassell. "And as we face this age demographic with so many lab people already on the retirement cliff, we realized a lack of well-prepared, emerging lab managers could be catastrophic for the field."
The third group identified as potential enrollees in the program is comprised of new-in-practice pathologists -- "the people who see the writing on the wall and know they will be pulled into management and are gasping, 'Oh no!' as this approaching wampus draws closer," said Hassell. "These are the people concerned that they don't know how to use the proper tools, or even know what the tools for management are."
With prospective students in their collective minds' eye, the LMU committee put together a core curriculum of 25 courses spread through the six key areas of competency: leadership, personnel management, operations, financial management, informatics and compliance. The coursework can be completed entirely online, and students can do it at their own paces.
"It is designed to be a blended learning experience with courses offered online, but live events available that people can attend if they are able," explained Hassell.
The fee has been set at $499 for ASCP and APF members, $599 for non-members, with discount opportunities for group enrollments. At the end of it all, graduates receive a certificate of completion.
Create a Strategic Plan
Tonya Morgan, MT (ASCP), SHCMP, lab manager at CARTI Lab, a hematology oncology lab in Little Rock, Ark., was one of the earliest graduates of the LMU experience. "I was attracted by the diversity of the coursework -- it captured the whole management picture in the six areas. And these are areas that simply are not taught in most med tech schools. You usually have to learn these things in the school of hard knocks."
Morgan said despite her 19 years of experience in a lab, there was still a lot of management knowledge she was lacking. "I knew these courses could open up a whole new way of thinking for me," she said.
Morgan was spot-on. She said she learned first and foremost to create a strategic plan for the lab -- something she had never known how to do before. "I put together goals around what I want to accomplish in the lab in the next year, and so far we are reaching all the milestones," she said.
Having made a 5-inch thick binder with all the course materials, Morgan said she regularly leafs through the pages to refresh her understanding and keep her "eyes wide open" in various situations. "It helps me keep my perspective straight," she noted. "It's a big deal for me. This education has given me the steps I need to be more effective. Literally not one single day goes by that there isn't some mental reference to the things I've learned."
Rex Famitangco, MSc, MLS(ASCP)CM QLC, MT(AMT)CLC, AHI, is laboratory administrative director at Morrill County Community Hospital and the chair of the Rural Nebraska Healthcare Network Lab Group comprised of lab professionals from eight area hospitals. He is also a proud graduate of LMU.
"At one of our quarterly Rural Nebraska Healthcare Network meetings we identified the need for succession and the further training that we needed amongst ourselves. Some of us are end-user providers with no management training at all, so as a group we wanted to try to find new paths to education," explained Famitangco. Being on the ASCP Council for Laboratory Professionals, he had been aware of LMU and suggested it to the group.
"There were 11 of us -- managers, directors and supervisors initially -- approved to enroll. Upon conversing with ASCP staff, they offered us an institutional discount. So from 11 people we went up to 31 people enrolled for the same price," he said. "So my staff of four was among the 31 and was able to attend as well."
Famitangco and his staff decided to keep to a shared schedule as they worked their way through the courses. They met bi-monthly to discuss the material, mull over any questions and add a live-and-in-person element to the online experience.
Competency testing at the beginning and the end of the coursework was very helpful, said Famitangco who noted that his staff was particularly intrigued by a course on "emotional intelligence," while he found sections on budget and regulatory issues extremely helpful on the job.
"LMU is very helpful when it comes to the real world," he said. "I suggest others take advantage of it -- you will learn things you cannot easily learn on the job. You will be given tools and a pre- and post- competency assessment so that you know what you need to improve upon. "
Famitangco, who volunteers for ASCP's global health outreach, now is spreading the benefits of LMU to a distant shore. "I introduced this to Guyana. The entire National Public Health Reference Laboratory is taking the course now," he explained. "The CDC gave them the funding to enroll. During a visit to Guyana, I gave them the schedule to follow and they are adopting my pattern of meeting every two weeks for review, questions and discussion. The most rewarding part of being a volunteer is to realize that we can help lab professionals in another country better themselves, as well as improve the quality of life for the Guyanese people."
Overall LMU kicked off its first year with 1700 participants from around the globe -- about the twice the projected number for the first year. Graduates of LMU may soon have an opportunity to take a second, more advanced, version, which is still in the planning stages. Hassell said it will likely be more project-based and will "go beyond intellectual understanding to a demonstration of application of concepts."
The immensity of importance of LMU and its growth is not lost on Hassell. "LMU has extreme value," he said in reflection. "I am in the process of thinking about what has been really significant in my own professional life, and I think this is one of the most important things I've been involved in."
More information on LMU is available at www.ascp.org/lmu
Valerie Neff Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.