Top 10: Issues facing Medical Lab Professionals

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A list of some common obstacles for bench techs in clinical labs.

There are a lot of challenges facing clinical laboratorians. Be it a sudden spike in the number of samples to be processed or the ongoing pressure for faster turnaround times (TAT), the medical laboratory can be a stressful place. Plus, due to nature of the healthcare industry, professional issues tend to arise between specialties—many times with the lab caught in the middle. In this Top Ten installment, ADVANCE contributor Stephanie Noblit highlights some of the problems facing MLPs.

10Critical Calls. It should be universally understood that critical calls are meant to improve patient safety and care. If a bench tech needs to spend extra time trying to reach a patient to give a critical result, then the patient is being negatively impacted. Having to sit through several options on a recorded message and being bounced around before speaking to someone who’s willing to take the result doesn’t do anyone any good.

9Short Staffing. Many labs across the county are short staffed. With many in the workforce nearing retirement, there are not enough new professionals coming in to replace them. More bench techs will be working overtime and picking up extra shifts. Bench techs are often asked to double their workloads, many times performing more than one bench a day. Short staffing issues can take a real toll on bench techs and can lead to burnout.

8Disconnect with Upper Management. Many bench techs have little-to-no interaction with upper management. This is unfortunate because, many times, the decisions made by upper management impact the bench techs the most. If there was more open dialogue between bench techs and upper management, decisions to purchase a new instrument or add an additional full-time position could be made with a better understanding of the actual day-to-day workflow in mind.

7Lack of Management Training. Many MLPs become managers without any formal managerial training. This results in good bench techs becoming bad managers. It does not necessary mean they are inherently bad, but that they haven’t been given a chance to develop managerial skills before taking on the role. Unskilled managers can be a stress for bench techs if there are issues with communication, delegating tasks and conflict—such as disciplining an employee.

6Clashes with Co-Workers. Co-workers are like family, and just like family, there some that we like more than others. Labs are a high stress environment, so it is likely that you will find yourself in an argument with a co-worker at some point. Co-workers that act like arch-nemeses can bring everyone down. Constant bickering and bad-mouthing affects the moral of the whole lab. There are also just toxic employees that just seem unable to get along or work with anyone without complaining.

5Strained Relationships with Other Healthcare Professionals. It’s no secret that MLPs and other healthcare professionals don’t always get along. We understand it’s a high stress environment, and we’re all just trying to take care of our patients, but it makes it more difficult to complete a test when we’re constantly being asked for an update or when it will be finished. Many MLPs have been on the receiving end of a hostile phone call, trying to explain that we are waiting for QC to come out, or that it’s a batch test, not direct access, etc. Keeping calm and professional is always the best way to go—on both ends of the line. Most of the time, we’re asked those questions because other healthcare professionals don’t fully understand how the lab works. Help them out.

4Difficultly Participating in Professional Organization Events. Attending state and national professional organization meetings like those held by ASCLS are great networking and educational experiences. Unfortunately, bench techs do not always get to take advantage of these opportunities. Not every facility will reimburse those attending the meeting. Attending meetings can be expensive, and it can be financially challenging to attend a meeting out of pocket. Additionally, not all employers offer education time to attend the meeting, so an MLP may have to use vacation or personal time.

3Public Awareness. When meeting someone new or attending a family reunion, it’s inevitable that someone is going to ask, “So, what do you do?” Some of us have our “I’m a medical laboratory professional” speech ready to go and attempt to educate them about the career. Even then, we are still sometimes faced with blank stares—or worse, the dreaded, “Oh, so you’re like a nurse.”

2Murphy’s Law with Equipment. Ever notice how instruments always seem to act up during the busiest times? The back-up equipment always seems to go down at the same time too, and they always seem to break when the one person that knows how to fix it is on vacation.

1Constant, Rapid Change. MLPs—and many other healthcare professionals—don’t always know what they’re going to come across during the workday, which can make the job more interesting in some regards, but can also make things very stressful. In a lab, things can change in an instant. It may be really slow at one point in the day, and then an hour later, it’s swamped. Anything can happen at any moment, and bench techs need to stay on their toes and be prepared.

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About Author

Stephanie Noblit, MLS(ASCP)CM
Stephanie Noblit, MLS(ASCP)CM

Stephanie Noblit, MLS(ASCP)CM, is a first year professional medical laboratory scientist. She graduated in 2014 with a bachelor of science in medical laboratory science from University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and completed her medical laboratory science internship at Pennsylvania Hospital. Currently, she is working in the medical toxicology lab at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She is actively involved in the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Science and holds leadership positions on both the state and national

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