As the COVID pandemic surges in the United States, the ongoing shortage of qualified laboratory staff has reemerged as a health care crisis. Staffing in hospital laboratories has been a challenge for years and many are being driven toward a breaking point due to the increased demand in clinical laboratory testing. This stems from an aging population, increased reliance on clinical test results, and most recently the critical need for COVID testing. At the same time accredited training programs for clinical laboratory scientists and medical lab technicians have steadily declined for years.
It has never been more essential to determine the appropriate staffing levels and skill mix to confront this challenge. AMS benchmarking of laboratory staff provides valuable information to understand the staffing levels needed by testing section and shift for the test volume and acuity. It is crucial to understand appropriate staff levels and available capacity to avoid staff burnout, reliance on overtime, and to recruit new or additional staff early enough to avoid exacerbating staff shortages.
With increasing competition for fewer available qualified laboratory staff, hospitals need to develop long-term strategies to ensure laboratory testing can be consistently provided. AMS is available to provide analysis of predicted retirement eligibility by skill mix to assist with projecting staffing needs in future years. This allows laboratories to deploy an aggressive strategy that includes partnering with student training programs with commitments to employ graduating students, recruitment of qualified technologists, and when indicated, escalation of efforts to include sign-on bonuses or use of temporary staffing.
Hospitals and Laboratories need to arm themselves with reliable information and develop strategies to ensure they retain and attract employees to promote a productive and efficient laboratory operation. This consists of the following steps:
- Determine current staffing and test volume capacity in each testing area or section.
- Project future staffing level needs based on retirement eligibility and staff turnover.
- Develop or strengthen relationships with training programs.
- Improve recruitment efforts with a long-term view of real staffing needs.
- Deploy triage measures to include temporary staffing and sign-on bonuses, if necessary.
Existing data should and must be utilized to assist hospitals to staff more efficiently, predict future staffing needs, and ensure increased stability in the laboratory.