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A laboratorian calls for unionization.

The only solution to the increasing shortage of medical technologists is more money. That may be blunt, but it's the truth as I see it.

We would also like respect, recognition, and recruits. But there is no way we will get them until we make known to hospital administration just how indispensable we are. We must organize ourselves into a union and demand a larger share of the profit the laboratory is known to produce.

The laboratory is one of the biggest money makers in the hospital budget. Yet long ago, hospital adminsitrators decided that laboratory personnel would come under the aegis of the pathologist. They further decided that our contribution to overall health care was nominal; therefore, medical technologists would receive a tiny fraction of the income we generate.

The maddening part is that med techs have bought into this paradigm for so long. We have been so apathetic about others' low opinion of our value to quality patient care that we have let the shortage reach crisis proportions.

* To blame. We are as much to blame for our situation as the people who made the rules we follow without question. If med techs had had the courage to strike with the nurses in the '70s, we would now be receiving the respect and remuneration they enjoy. Unfortunately, at the time we did not think enough of ourselves.

Both professions are female dominated. Any such profession must fight for whatever it achieves. Our pay scale does not have to remain this way. In fact, it can't.

Our low salaries are at the root of our growing disillusionment and dissatisfaction with our profession. According to Part II of MLO's August 1990 survey report, "Fight or Flight? Laboratorians' Response to the Shortage," pay is a critical issue. Among the major reasons for which employees at their labs had resigned during the previous two years, 43% of survey respondents cited low salary. This reason was second only to leaving to work in another clinical laboratory (63%). I'd say many in the latter group probably left because another lab paid more.

Even more alarming was the finding that employees of 42% of panelists' labs had left the field altogether during the previous two years. Furthermore, 71% of those surveyed expected the shortage in their geographic areas to worsen during the next two years.

How can hospital managers expect students to matriculate into our profession when they can go into nursing and make more money in half the time and with half the education? Nursing is the profession to which we are losing existing med techs as well as prospective ones.

Can we blame them? An LPN with a two-year degree and a few years of experience can ask for and receive up to $17 per hour in some big-city hospitals. A newly registered medical technologist with a B.S. degree will be offered $10 to $12 per hour to start. Not until that technologist moves into a managerial position can she expect to earn $17 an hour.

* Full time times two. Our salaries are an abomination! Many of us have at one time or another maintained two jobs, perhaps both of them "full time," to make the amount of money we should be earning at one. Because of our low pay scale, technologists who remain in the field experience high stress and burnout--the fourth most common reason for leaving the profession, cited in the MLO article at 38%.

Yet hospital administrators will be quick to point out that health care is already too costly. They add that since we are at lower risk than doctors and nurses, our pay scale should remain at its present rate.

In response to point number one, consider how high your hospital's insurance will be and the cost of lawsuits settled out of court because your lab personnel are overworked. The quality of test results can't remain high when our workload increases because there aren't any new techs to recruit.

Regarding point number two, medical technologists are probably more at risk than any other medical professional. No patient contact? How much more intimate can it get than to work closely all day with urine, feces, cavity fluids, and blood that may or may not be labeled as biohazardous? Medical technologists discover the patient's disease state before the physician, who must guess the diagnosis until laboratory test results confirm it. The difference is that doctors and nurses are compensated for the risks they take, while medical technologists are not.

* Who will lose. The very people the health care industry claims are its major concern--patients--will ultimately be the losers unless the med tech shortage is relieved.

Colleagues, we are overworked and grossly underpaid for the amount of education and expertise we bring to the hospital. We received our extensive education because it was required in order to become part of an institution that does not respect or recognize the contribution we make to the quality of health care.

The shortage has left us one recourse: to unite nationwide and demand that our pay scale be upgraded by at least $5 to $10 per hour. We have earned it and it is our due. If our demand for a higher pay scale is not met soon, the consequences will have such a devastating effect on the health care industry that everyone will know who medical technologists are and the valuable service we perform. But it will be too late.

It is time to unionize. Let's make this our decade.

Cheryl Killebrew is a hematology technologist at Rush--Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:laboratory technologists
Author:Killebrew, Cheryl
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Voluntary proficiency testing: a step toward excellence.
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