Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is here! If you’re not a lab tech or don’t know one, you may not even realize how much they’re doing every day to keep operations on track and supported throughout every facet of a medical facility.
Kortney Peters and Mike Reifsnyder—two of our national staffing managers who work closely with the Medical Technologists (MTs) and Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLTs) that LRS Healthcare places at facilities all across the country—know all about the important role of laboratory professionals. So, we sat down with them this week to get their take on the job, how it’s changing and how LRS ensures each one gets a placement that fits their needs.
What does a lab tech do?
Kortney describes these “unsung heroes” as the ones helping diagnose patients by collecting patient specimens for testing to identify any disease, illness or other potential ailment a patient may have. Mike concurs.
“They’re really the first key individual in the entire healthcare segment that diagnoses how you should be treated,” Mike said. “Nurses have their specialties, M.D.s have their specialties, but they are completely reliant on the expertise of individuals working in the lab.”
How has the role changed in recent years?
While there have been plenty of changes across the entire healthcare field, especially with the advent of modern technology, MTs and MLTs have seen a larger difference than most.
“Within the last 10 years, the level of automation has increased dramatically,” said Mike. “Previously, a lot of these things were processed by hand, so when you look at the workforce, the sheer number of people needed to run a lab has gone down significantly compared to 20 years ago.”
“But,” he continued, “these are also specialized positions that require specialized educations. You or I couldn’t just get a general associate degree, walk into a hospital and be qualified to run a highly complex piece of equipment. Having the right people paired with the right education is critical.”
Unfortunately, over the years, many school programs have cut back on specialized laboratory curriculums or shut down entirely, meaning fewer and fewer people are graduating with the skills necessary to do this work. This leaves hospitals and seasoned MTs and MLTs in a pickle—there’s a whole generation of techs ready to retire, but they’re also needed to fill the void, which is one reason many hospitals are turning to medical travelers to fill open positions.
“Collective forecasting for 2019 indicates an increased need for skilled lab techs entering the workforce to be around 22 percent compared to last year. That’s a big jump. Needless to say, qualified laboratory techs are in demand,” Mike explains.
How does LRS Healthcare approach working with laboratory travelers?
The placement process is key. “It’s not cookie-cutter, and we know how to tailor our approach to meet our travelers’ individualized needs,” said Kortney.
And that makes a lot of sense. Laboratory travelers aren’t cookie-cutter either. They range from recently graduated to semi-retired, not to mention the vast sea of interests and travel career goals they may have. Some have families or other schedules to work around and others are eager to see as much of the country as they can and make a great living in the process. It’s all about taking the time to understand each traveler’s situation and help them maximize their experience.
“There are techs that are ready to go basically the same-day, and we have plenty of interested facilities ready to get a contract set quickly. Other techs looking for specific locations or working to balance family and travel might take a little longer to place,” Kortney explains. “Digging in with these travelers comes with the territory, and we love helping people understand their options, whatever it takes. We’re very collaborative and creative when it comes to finding the best placement for our travelers.”
The collaboration—or consistent relationship building—is also key to the LRS Healthcare travel experience.
“One of the biggest strengths we have as a company is that we don’t divide the country up by territories, and we don’t pass our travelers around from recruiter to recruiter based on where they want to go next,” Mike said. “With LRS, travelers and recruiters stick together, which is so important when building trust and really partnering together for the long haul.
What areas of the country are in high demand of MTs and MLTs right now?
“That growing need we talked about earlier means the need is really nationwide,” said Kortney. “The travel industry is growing, and new hospitals are requesting travelers all the time, especially in the emerging allied healthcare travel field.”
When you look at the job boards, it’s clear the need is coast to coast. Oddly enough, our friends on the East and West Coasts are seeing an uptick in requests that exceed the nationwide demand.
Mike points out, “There are two specific states we’re seeing pretty significant trends in terms of need. No. 1 in the entire country right now is California—which is also the highest paying state in the country currently. Number two would be New York state, also well-paying and a great experience.”
What common misconceptions do you see in the industry about lab techs and for travelers specifically?
“I think they have the stereotype of being kind of the quiet introvert, which isn’t necessarily that untrue,” Kortney laughed. “Being isolated and so focused in the lab takes a certain kind of person. That being said, most of my travelers are pretty outgoing, goofy and excited to pair their laboratory skills with exciting stints on the road—and I have amazing pictures to prove it.”
Mike added, “I would agree, most are actually quite adventurous. Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think, ‘I want to be a migrant worker and travel around the U.S.’ Bottom line, these travelers are going someplace where they probably don’t know anyone. They just know they’ve got a job, and that takes a kind of fierce independence and confidence.”
“Also,” he continued, “there’s a huge misconception around who is best suited for travel. Some think you have to be either fresh out of college, not tied down by a family or an empty nester with 20-plus years of experience. But currently, well over 50 percent of the travelers who work with me have families. We help facilitate placements for travelers with families at home as a team decision, with everyone on board.”
Taking all of this in really helps a person not only appreciate medical laboratory professionals, but also understand the opportunity anyone interested in the field or currently rocking it has for allied medical travel. And there’s never been a better time to see the country while lending your expertise to hospitals nationwide.