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almost a nurse
When I entered the workforce in 1977 as a BS Medical Technologist, the sky was the limit for opportunities in my field. My class at UT Center for the Health Sciences graduated 12 who then had to be certified by a national organization called ASCP and then pass a licensure exam for the State of Tennessee to be able to work. I began my career of 28 years in the clinical laboratory at the rate of $4.92 per hour.

Lab tech positions may be filled by AS degreed Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLT) or BS degreed Medical Technologists (MT). The blood is drawn by staff members called phlebotomists who, most often, receive on the job training. The anatomical lab is staffed by a physician called a pathologist and a histotechnologist who prepares the tissue specimens. The pathologist also serves as director of operations for the clinical laboratory.

According to this article taken from one of the premier magazines in the industry, 70-75% of medical diagnoses are made based on test results generated by the laboratory staff. Currently the median age of the laboratory tech is between 43 and 44 years with very few entering the field to replace them as they approach retirement. In response to this severe shortage of qualified personnel, the Medical Laboratory Personnel Shortage Act of 2005 was passed earlier this year to provide incentives for new people to enter the workforce. Currently there is a turnover rate of greater than 20% in some areas of the country for lab personnel due to the intense competition for practitioners.


The gig for a lab tech varies according to where you work. In large hospitals the techs never stick patients and are rigidly deparmentalized and specialized due to the sheer volume of work. In my case, which is the rural hospital setting, the tech does everything from answering the phone and drawing blood to trouble-shooting the LIS and running the tests. We provide a full range of chemistry, hematology, coagulation, serology, transfusion medicine, and microbiology testing, just to name a small sample. In other words, we are expected to do it all. The worst beatins' of my life have been while trying to get blood from 100 year old ladies or 1 year old kids ;)

There are a lot of reasons for the shortage in the field, not the least of which is lack of professional recognition. To many healthcare consumers, anyone who wears scrubs and works in a hospital is a "nurse". My friends kids never really understood what I did around there, so they referred to me as ALMOST a nurse! While the nursing field has its' shortages as well, the pay and perks for RNs has escalated at such a rapid rate that a new AS degreed RN..starting out, makes more now that I do after 28 years in healthcare. Nursing has quite a strong voice in the political arena that has served them well.

Another factor is the stress involved. The meticulous work of blood, body fluid and tissue analysis can result in rapid burnout of techs. Every test must be quality controlled day in and day out and a huge amount of mental effort goes into simply assuring that the proper result is reported. Meanwhile, physicians are notorious for browbeating lab folks when they don't get what they want when they want it in just the right manner. I can't tell you how many times I've been cussed out by a doctor who thinks that his time is more valuable than mine. It's as if they think that there's some grand conspiracy to aggravate them.

My daughter was born in September, and August of that year found me running the halls of the hospital with a tray in my hand to go stick people, waddling like a duck with swollen ankles. Her first visit to the lab was when she was about 3 weeks old,laying on my shoulder, to meet my co-workers. She watched me work nights, weekends and holidays the entire time she was growing up and when time came for her to choose a vocation, guess which one was the last on her list!

I love my job and the patients. I adore my co-workers, quirks and all. But I sure do wonder who's gonna be doing this job when all of us old-timers decide to call it quits. It won't be a nurse, that's for sure.
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