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Developing better lab supervisors.

Developing better lab supervisors

This program quickly and systematically trains new supervisors,who are usually thrust into the job with little advance notice.

All to often, technologists are made laboratory supervisors on the basis of their technical abilities. The promotion usually follows a resignation, giving the new supervisor little or no overlap training period with the old supervisor. Suddenly the laboratory has a section chief with a strong technical background but little in the way of management, administrative, and interpersonal skills.

Our microbiology laboratory needed an organized training program that would cultivate such skills. Turnover is constant in our large university-based operation.

The hospital we serve has 700 beds, with another 500 under construction, and the microbiology staff numbers 45 FTEs. Immediately under the laboratory manager, first-level supervisors are responsible for virology/serology, mycology/mycobacteriology, bacteriology, and quality control. A fifth supervisor serves as the section's education coordinator.

There's a second level of supervisors within these five areas. For example, as the supervisor of bacteriology, I oversee the supervisor of anaerobes/parasitology and the main lab, blood room, accession, and quality control supervisors in bacteriology. With so many supervisory positions, we are bound to have an opening sooner or later.

Most openings have been filled by promotion within the section. But we still faced the problem that the departing supervisor was rarely around more than two weeks to ease the changeover.

Our solution was an ongoing training program for new and potential supervisors. They spend about six weeks on the program, with training fitted into their schedules as time permits. The course, outlined in Figure 1, concentrates on the following three areas: *Advanced technical training. The first phase of our training program deals with the advanced technical aspects of the position. Since a new supervisor tends to be strongest in the technical area, it is a good place to begin developing self-confidence in decision making.

Matters requiring further explanation include procedure writing, College of American Pathologists quality control guidelines, and laboratory testing guidelines of the National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards. We also outline continuing education responsibilities and discuss the value to the individual of professional associations, journals, and certification programs.

Most new supervisors already possess the problem-solving abilities needed to develop procedures, but they often lack the basic organizing skills. The laboratory manager prepared guidelines to close that gap (see Figure II). Supplemented by NCCLS procedure-writing guidelines, these give trainees a concise outline of what they must do to design acceptable procedures in a consistent format.

The lab manager also prepared a form to help supervisors and technologists evaluate products. It asks for the projected use of a product, the reasons it would be used, a description of the evaluation format, a summary of the results, the evaluator's conclusion, and additional comments if the product is put in regular use.

New supervisors rotate through the microbiology laboratory's QC area and receive copies of all CAP quality control and NCCLS guidelines. We also go over CAP inspection checklists. Although most of the information in these handouts is self-explanatory, a general discussion gives our trainees a feeling of security and a heightened awareness of their responsibilities in the CAP inspection process.

Each supervisor must present at least one continuing education program per year to our laboratory. Preparation commonly combines a literature search with the use of the lecturer's own research information, often gleaned from interesting case studies and unusual organisms identified in our laboratory.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the need for self-fulfillment through responsibility, advancement, and growth is the ranking criterion for job satisfaction. We help trainees achieve this goal by introducing them to specialty literature, teaching them to teach others, and familiarizing them with the advantages of membership in professional associations and certification.

*Basic laboratory administration. Administrative duties, probably the most time-consuming aspect of basic supervision, can be very intimidating to a new supervisor. We decided the best approach was to present an overallintroduction to general laboratory management.

Subjects covered include time Guidelines for procedure writing management, long-term planning, budget preparation, productivity, cost analysis, DRGs, and how all these elements fit together. The material is covered by the laboratory manager in one-on-one hourly sessions with trainees over a period of two weeks.

This phase of instruction makes it possible for former technologists to cross the management bridge and recognize how their supervisory decisions will affect the laboratory. They lose the luxury of thinking how a decision may affect just one individual.

After supervisory trainees absorb a great deal of general information, we shift the focus to their specialty area and what is expected in terms of productivity, work flow, inventory control, and CAP workload recording. The specialty area's supervisor takes them through this part of the indoctrination. Appropriate handouts, literature, and references are supplied.

*Personnel supervision. This is the most important aspect of management. The hospital's office of personnel management conducts a series of compulsory and elective classes for employees. Courses are offered on such subjects as interpersonal skills, the supervisor as counselor, and dealing with difficult people. There's also a basic orientation in such areas as Equal Employment Opportunity regulations, personnel policies, and procedures pertinent to our institution.

These classes play an invaluable role in the growth of our new supervisors. Since they are able to look at problems with fresh insight, we encourage the participants to offer constructive criticism and innovative suggestions.

Turning to less appealing aspects of personnel administration, the microbiology supervisor gives new supervisors their job description and evaluation form, along with the job descriptions for employees they will now evaluate. These must be studied carefully. In addition, we discuss potential employee infractions and the grievance process.

We then move on to basic personnel management theory, with emphasis on motivating employees and keeping their morale up. Although most personnel skills are innate, this overview can encourage new supervisors to rethink their emerging management style.

We emphasize the importance of positive reinforcement, timely reprimands, and addressing employees' actions rather than their personalities. Our laboratory's basic management theory focuses on "intrinsic management." This means that it is management's responsibility to provide avenues and opportunities for professional growth without forcing employees to participate.

The final personnel management phase covers training of new employees at the bench and continuing education. (Each area of the microbiology laboratory has to formulate specific training goals in writing. When technologists are deemed to have met these goals, they receive a series of questions for an ungraded self-examination. They are also invited to critique the instruction.)

Because laboratory work is goal-oriented, we ask each supervisor to set a goal and establish a timetable for accomplishing it. Some choose short-term goals, such as implementing a new pneumocystis stain within the next two months. Others favor long-term aspirations, which tend to be more personal-such as passing a speciality examination.

We give everyone a good deal of flexibility but do expect the goals to be met. If they are not met, we want to know why. Was the timetable too optimistic? Was the goal too unrealistic? This exercise forces members of the supervisory staff to examine their failures closely and, we hope, learn from them.

Each supervisor also oversees the goals of three technologists. This requirement keeps open the lines of communication between the various levels of the laboratory operation. Supervisors can help technologists achieve their goals, if the supervisors know what those goals are.

For example, if I know that an employee is interested in a particular procedure or organism, and I see a presentation on that topic at the American Society for Microbiology meeting, I can pick up a copy of the paper and bring it back to the lab. Such professional camaraderie raises my motivation and self-esteem as well as the employee's.

Although many lessons are still leamed through trial by fire, we believe that our course is a good way to prepare and motivate new supervisors for their first management role.
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Author:Burgwyn, Carolyn Maki
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jul 1, 1988
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