In 2016, the Bureau of Labor statistics anticipated needed growth of 12,000 new medical laboratory professionals per year to meet growing demand. However, academic programs currently produce just 5,000 graduates per year.
Compounding the problem is the average age of the laboratory workforce, which has been increasing steadily. In 2004, the average age of a certified medical technologist was 43.7 (which was slightly older than of nurses (43.3) and was aging at a 78 percent faster rate than the entire U.S. labor market.
On September 28, 2016, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted its third determination of VHA occupations with the largest staffing shortages as required by Section 301 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. They determined that the largest critical need occupations were Medical Officer, Nurse, Psychologist, Physician Assistant, Physical Therapist, and Medical Technologist (clinical laboratory personnel).
This crisis is the result of a decades-long decline in MLS and MLT producing academic programs. From 1970 the number of accredited programs declined from nearly 1,000 to less than 450 in 2006. Since 2008, the number of programs has rebounded modestly from 427 to 479 in 2015. That increase has not been nearly enough to address the increasing demand. Further the shortage exacerbates the challenge in securing clinical sites for training.
For nearly two decades, ASCLS and the rest of the laboratory community have been sounding the alarm. In June 16, 2000, representatives from twelve (12) different laboratory organizations and two (2) government agencies met in Chicago to participate in the first Summit on the "Shortage of Clinical Laboratory Personnel," sponsored by the Education Scientific Assembly of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS). Participating organizations included:
- American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
- American Society for Microbiology
- American Association of Bioanlysts
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- American Association of Clinical Chemistry
- Clinical Laboratory Management Association
- American Society for Clinical Pathologists-Associate Member Section
- American Society for Clinical Pathologists-Board of Registry
This shortage was not late in development. Articles appeared from 1987 to 1989, stating the shortage even then. Yet, the shortage has worsened, with few solutions identified to alleviate the situation. Most recently the Laboratory Industry Report (May, 2000) documented the current situation in a five-page report concerning " A Bad Situation That Is Getting Worse."
Clinical laboratory personnel are critical to our nation's health care. They provide a wide-range of diagnostic, technical, therapeutic and direct patient care and support services. These professionals are critical to physicians and nurses with whom they work and to the patients they serve. In total, clinical laboratory personnel and other allied health professions account for an estimated 60 percent of the entire health care workforce.
More than 4 billion medical laboratory tests are performed each year in the United States, the single highest volume medical activity. Approximately 70% of physicians' patient interactions are influenced by laboratory test data.
New laboratory tests are being developed all the time to improve early detection and diagnosis of diseases, more accurately monitor conditions and better protect outcomes (prognosis). One area of significant growth, molecular diagnostics detects and measures the presence of genetic material or proteins associated with a specific health condition or disease, helping to uncover the underlying mechanisms of disease and enabling clinicians to take care at an individual level, facilitating the practice of "personalized medicine."