Before attending the 2019 Legislative Symposium, I was aware of the shortage of medical laboratory scientists. But seeing the magnitude of the shortage and oncoming retirement presented at the symposium was eye opening. The statistics presented there made me wonder why MLS professionals have so little visibility in a time of such dire need.
While I don’t know the definite answer to this, I do know that the majority of my classmates and I were not aware of the MLS profession until after finishing undergraduate studies in biology or similar fields that usually require graduate-level education to find a job in the field. When discussing this with my professor, who also attended the symposium, she mentioned that the biology program at the University of Minnesota did not want to advertise the MLS degree due to losing students from their program when the MLS is a much more technical and job-focused degree. This made me wonder what other barriers exist in making medical lab science more visible.
In terms of barriers to getting more workers into the MLS field, our profession could be overshadowed by other health career programs such as nursing, medicine, and pharmacy. Another cause of the workforce shortage could be increasing demand and wage stagnation in our program, which makes qualified students choose other fields. A lot of other health professions overlook the importance of the lab, so I wonder how laboratory professionals can emphasize how much healthcare depends on us without going to the extreme of walking out and seeing how our workplaces would run without us. That would ultimately harm patient care, which goes against our core beliefs.
“I believe that all of us are responsible for making our profession more visible, given how much of a shortage we face with high retirement rates and not enough new qualified graduates to fill those vacancies.”
Therefore, I feel that increasing our visibility as a profession, as discussed at the Legislative Symposium, is of utmost importance. We need to provide opportunities to students in community colleges, technical schools, and universities who are interested in healthcare, and educate them about the versatility of our profession. Another option would be to advertise at career fairs for professionals looking for a career change or those who have been chronically unemployed or underemployed in their current fields.
Social media could also widen our visibility in the current era of technology. I believe that all of us are responsible for making our profession more visible, given how much of a shortage we face with high retirement rates and not enough new qualified graduates to fill those vacancies. We could start by making scripted responses about the versatility and importance of our profession for people not used to promoting it. The more visible we make ourselves, the more people will see us.
In summary, the 2019 Legislative Symposium taught me about the importance of advocacy and visibility in medical lab science. We are in nearly every hospital or clinic, yet much of the staff is not aware of us and the importance of what we do. By extension, politicians are likely overall unaware of our work too, which is why going to Capitol Hill and speaking about the issues our profession faces is a necessity for us and the patients we care for. We strive for optimal patient care, just as nurses and doctors do, but as medical lab scientists we have more work to make ourselves visible and communicate the importance of our work with other hospital staff and within legislatures. As a student—and eventually as an employee/professional—I will continue working with ASCLS to promote medical lab science. I definitely hope to attend the Legislative Symposium next year and for years to come.
Allicia Gunderman is getting a Master of Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cites in Minneapolis.