Lab Workers: Crossing State Lines

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Lack of state licensure has been a passport for easy mobility for healthcare professionals.

The issue of crossing state lines to practice in one’s own healthcare specialty is not as tricky for laboratorians as for other healthcare professionals. For example, a nurse licensed in one state may not be able to cross into a nearby state and practice due to varying state-specific licensure requirements that may not be reciprocal. Some states are forming multi-state compacts to relieve the burden for traveling nurses. Some organizations are pushing to form a national pact to remove all state border-crossing problems.

The landscape is vastly different for laboratory workers. While medical laboratory scientists (MLS) and medical laboratory technicians (MLT) may be required to obtain a state license, their working-across-the-border options are much easier to navigate. The reason is that only 12 states require licenses for these professionals. But take heed: While lab workers are now on the mobility fast track, that luxury could be changing.

Certification Is Not Licensure

While a homogenous national certification — helping to ensure that certified laboratorians meet similar standards of professional competence — is available, even that certification is not required in the vast majority of states without licensure.

In the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) Policy Statement on Licensure of Laboratory Personnel, certification is defined as being a less restrictive form of occupational regulation than licensure, hence lab personnel can be certified without being “licensed.”

While the lack of licensure requirements may constitute a passport to work in a multitude of states, it could also be responsible for a weakening of the profession. In fact, both ASCP and the College of American Pathologists (CAP) have gone on record to support a push for licensure.

Licensure Logic

While the demand for medical lab professionals is rising — resulting in a national vacancy rate of about 45% — the funding for laboratorian education is shrinking; allocations going instead to more regulated healthcare fields. In addition, due to the shortage, some labs are forced to hire non-certified workers, raising concerns about patient safety.

State chapters of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Texas are actively pursuing licensure. But they have met with some opposition built on fears that licensure will increase costs for labs, make it harder to hire out-of-state personnel, and increase the shortage. Bills are being retrofitted to dispel such fears and assure current lab workers in now unlicensed states that they will be “grandfathered” into any license requirements.

While working across state borders is not much of an issue for laboratorians at this point in time, keep a sharp lookout for this new legislation. “The times, they are a-changing…”

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Valerie Neff Newitt
Valerie Neff Newitt

Staff Writer

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