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Job Recruiter Interview: Retiring Workers Create Demand For Medical Technologists

By Dave Abrams
January 7, 2010

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted with employment recruiter Jon Harol, an expert in healthcare placement. Mr. Harol discusses job opportunities and provides degree recommendations for medical technologists.

Mr. Harol is a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) by the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS) and the Managing Partner of Lighthouse Recruiting, LLC, based in Avon, CT. Lighthouse Recruiting is a full-service contingency recruiting firm that serves the healthcare industry and specializes in the recruitment of Allied Health professionals. Over the last few years Mr. Harol has personally niched in the clinical laboratory industry, and he regularly places Medical Lab Technologists nationwide. He resides in West Simsbury, CT with his wife and and two sons, ages three and four.

Dave Abrams:

Can you just to tell me a little about your recruiting experience?

Jon Harol:

I started in 2003, so I have a little over six years of experience now. I started for the first couple of years essentially as a generalist, and by 2004 or 2005 I had found my niche exclusively inside of the healthcare field. In 2006, I started to niche my way further into allied health, which focuses mostly on midlevel hospital workers and technicians instead of physicians and nurses. I do some pharmacy recruiting as well, and for the last couple of years about 85% to 90% of my work has been focused on clinical laboratory and radiology workers.

Dave Abrams:

How did you choose to work with clinical laboratory workers?

"There were almost 700 [medical technology] programs in the seventies..., but it has been pared down to a little over 200 now"

Jon Harol:

I guess it was kind of chosen for me. I just started getting a lot of job orders in that area, as clients were asking for more medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists. I built a critical mass of job orders and decided to take them and work exclusively in this field. I wanted to focus a little bit more so I could penetrate deeper into that field and really get to know the industry.

Dave Abrams:

There was recently a formal name change for medical technologists. Can you talk about that a little?

Jon Harol:

Medical technologists have been referred to by different names in different areas for many years. They are known as medical technologists in most parts of the country, but they are also known as clinical laboratory scientists in California and some other states.

For the past 20 to 30 years, there have been two boards that license these workers nationwide, and they historically both have been seen as equal. The ASCP or American Society for Clinical Pathologists was managed by doctors and they called lab workers medical technologists once they became licensed. The other board called NCA, or the National Credentialing Agency, was run by technologists, who referred to themselves as clinical laboratory scientists upon licensure.

If you presented someone with either certification at a hospital, they were seen as equal. And, for thirty years, those two boards fought it out, but in September they finally merged to form one organization, and now everyone will be known as medical laboratory scientists. This went into affect early in the fall, but I still haven't really seen it catch on yet. I know that it's the official verdict, but I don't see employers listing job openings that way or employees referring to themselves as medical laboratory scientists on resumes.

Dave Abrams:

What does a medical laboratory scientist actually do?

Jon Harol:

They work in the four major laboratory areas, blood banks, chemistry, microbiology, and hematology. Whenever a doctor takes any type of tissue or blood sample, they send it to the lab to be tested and diagnosed. Medical laboratory scientists are responsible for running the samples through machines, doing the cultures, making a diagnosis and sending it back to the physician.

Dave Abrams:

What kind of degree would someone in this field typically have?

Jon Harol:

There are two levels, an associates and a four-year bachelor's degree. Again, different schools call them different things, but they are either called medical technology or clinical laboratory science degrees. Once a student earns an associate level degree, they come out at the technician level. Those with four-year degrees are known as technologists. There are currently about 200 schools that offer that degree program. There were almost 700 programs in the seventies when it was a popular degree, but it has been pared down to a little over two hundred now.

Dave Abrams:

The demand for people with degrees is starting to increase again, correct?

"There is need for a little more than 6,000 new workers every year, and there are only 2,000 students graduating from these programs [annually]"

Jon Harol:

Yes, the demand today is becoming more and more critical. About two years ago, the Department of Labor released a survey saying that 50% of laboratory healthcare workers were slated to retire in the next ten years, and schools were not producing the number of medical laboratory scientists that were needed. New positions are being created because of the aging baby boomer generation, as they require more medical care. Doctors in general are also doing more laboratory testing today then they were in the past, so the demand itself is naturally increasing.

Additionally, the fact that a lot of the workforce is retiring is creating even more demand. There is need for a little more than 6,000 new workers every year, and there are only 2,000 students graduating from these programs, so the annual shortage of 4,000 people gets more and more critical with each passing year. Because of the current recession, however, we haven't seen the disparity we expected in the last couple of years, as a lot of people have delayed their retirement. I recently saw data that showed that 60% to 70% of people who were slated to retire in the next three years have delayed their retirement, so we are seeing that along with some previously retired people coming back to work part-time. The demand is still there for medical laboratory scientists, it has just been softened a little bit.

Dave Abrams:

The bachelor's degree gives people a better opportunity to move up the management chain, correct?

Jon Harol:

Yes. We run a newsletter, and in every issue we give the national average salary for a two and four-year degree workers. Last month, the average four-year degree worker was earning a little over $51,000 per year, while those with two-year degrees made an average of about $37,000. It's very rare to see people in management positions with just an associate's level degree. It's not even necessarily a degree, it's more of a certification issue. They are certified as an ASCP certified MLT, which means by the boards that regulate hospital laboratories. They are not allowed to do necessarily everything that a four-year degree worker can, and you'll see that in California and Florida, where those with only 2-year degrees are not permitted to work in blood banks or do that part of the laboratory work.

Dave Abrams:

What would you advise to jobseekers interested in this field in terms of choosing between pursing a bachelor's degree or an associate's level degree?

Jon Harol:

If someone is at a point in their life where they are able to go to school and get a four-year degree, they will be compensated over time and those extra two years of school will more than pay for themselves. People with 4-year degrees on average are going to make about $14,000 or $15,000 more every year, so over the course of a career, that's definitely going to be a better move. If someone's lifestyle requires they get to work quicker, however, they probably won't be able to pursue a bachelor's degrees. Associate's degrees are very valid options, as people can then go back to school while they are working, whether it is through an online program or a regular school, and obtain a four-year degree. I think, however, people sometimes end up doing some duplicate coursework that way, so the more they can do at all at once, the more they will avoid having to take repeat courses at different schools.

Dave Abrams:

Do you see a lot of middle-aged people who are trying to make a career change transition into this field?

Jon Harol:

Yes, a large percentage of our new graduates every year are second-career people. In these economic times, everybody has been saying that the healthcare field is one of the few that remains strong. That's been said for a longtime, especially with nurses, so I think there is a pretty good sense of awareness that there is a shortage of healthcare workers in the country. When people do look at second-careers, a lot of the time they consider healthcare careers.

Dave Abrams:

And this is actually a hotter career area than nursing is right now, correct?

"Those people who are more loyal to their hospitals, remaining at one location for five years or more, become much more attractive to management staff when they are looking for someone to hire."

Jon Harol:

Yes, I think nursing has received more press coverage, but I know in the laboratory community there is some frustration about that. People can more easily identify with what a nurse does, because they come in contact with them a lot more often than with medical laboratory workers. People usually don't see medical laboratory workers conducting tests on samples in a lab, whereas they do come in contact with nurses while they are at work. Therefore, people tend to feel more familiar with the nursing profession, and I think that makes the shortage in the lab a little bit more critical.

Secondly, these science degrees are very difficult to earn, and people shy away from those a little bit. If people do go for a degree in a hard science, a lot of times they go into areas other than healthcare, as the healthcare field requires people work three different shifts because labs are usually open 24x7. Recent graduates are usually required to work those evening or night shifts, and some people don't like that. Labs are not even closed on holidays, so people who do go through a hard degree usually go the pharmaceutical or biotechnology route because they can have a regular Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job this way.

Dave Abrams:

As lab workers advance in their career, do their hours become more regular, or are they always going to be working different shifts?

Jon Harol:

I think it does change. What we see is that most hospitals will hire recent graduates for either the second shift or third shift, but as positions open up, they are always filled internally first. Therefore, if people stay at one hospital for a while, dayshift positions do become available. Better shifts usually come with seniority, as those with more tenure will usually not be required to work holidays and weekends as well. When lab workers are starting off in their career, however, they can be fairly certain that they are going to work some evenings, nights, and holidays and weekends.

Dave Abrams:

Is there other advice that you might give to someone considering a career in the medical technology field?

Jon Harol:

One thing I have noticed is that a lot of laboratory workers don't guard their career history or weigh job changes seriously enough. The average worker moves every two to three years, which has become pretty normal. Those people who are more loyal to their hospitals, remaining at one location for five years or more, become much more attractive to management staff when they are looking for someone to hire. When I am able to show them a resume of somebody who has worked at the same place for five to ten years, they are much more impressed that if that person changed jobs every two to three years. I think that young workers don't recognize how important that is and how it can benefit them later in life.

Dave Abrams:

Any other career mistakes you see people make?

Jon Harol:

I sometimes see people who specialize in a certain field, like microbiology for example, but who are not open to moving or working at a job that requires more than a 20-minute commute. There are typically only going to be one or two hospitals in each area, so if people are specialized but not open to potentially relocating, they are completely eliminating any opportunity for career growth. People will end up stuck behind someone and spend ten or fifteen years at one place when they could potentially be taking the next step in their career. If they were open to relocating or having a longer commute, many of these people would be able to find a supervisor role or advance their career in some way. I know that's not always possible for everyone, as some people might have family or other obligations that require them to stay where they are.

But people can climb the ladder faster if they are focused on finding the best supervisor position, even if it's further than twenty minutes away from them. By having the mentality that they are going to make a move and take a position that will advance their career, they will have a much better chance at doing so.

Another problem I consistently see in people is that they go back to school to get their masters, but it's not paired with any type of supervisory experience. Then when they want to move into a lab management role, they are banging their heads against the wall, because they can't break into management. Anytime there is an opportunity to take any type of supervisory or management position, people should jump on that. A master's degree without any experience is essentially useless, and I have a really hard time getting those people into supervisory roles. Once people get their foot in the door, that master's helps them for the rest of their career, but by itself it wont help anyone land a managerial position.

Dave Abrams:

So in order to really take advantage of that education at the master's level, people need the practical experience?

Jon Harol:

Right. They have to pair it with some kind of people management or supervisory experience if they are looking to get into the management ranks.

Dave Abrams:

If someone interested in a position in the field wanted to contact a recruiter, what would be the best way for them to do that?

Jon Harol:

We run a newsletter, and I usually recommend it to everybody I come in contact with who has this question. I tell them to signup for the newsletter, and if they don't like it, they can unsubscribe anytime. In it, they will receive monthly information about their industry, including what its national salary average is and what jobs are open and available. We also offer referral bonuses, and I think everybody can benefit by knowing a recruiter that's a specialist in their industry. I have people call me up and use me as a sound board pretty frequently, asking for my advice on the direction they should go with their career. It's always good for people to know a specialist in their field who can give them their perspective.

Dave Abrams:

We've been talking a lot about undergraduate and associate's level degrees. Are any master's degree programs available online as well?

Jon Harol:

Yes. The University of Phoenixoffers MBAs or MHAs. At supervisory ranks, a master's degree is not required, but it's preferred, and once people get up a little bit further towards the manager-level or director-level positions, employers usually don't consider candidates without master's degree.

If someone has some of the other pieces of the puzzle, a master's degree will definitely give them a leg up on the competition. I would say it's almost more valuable for laboratory workers to get their master's in business or healthcare administration, but some people go the other route, getting it in microbiology, for example. These people usually become technical specialists or technical managers or directors, where they are not going to be managing people, but instead will be an expert for any issues that will arise regarding testing in that department. We even see some people pursue a PhD level degree, but this is usually not for people who are interested in a management position either. For those looking to get into a people management position, I would recommend an MHA or an MBA.

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