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HHS sets August date for proficiency exam.

HHS Sets August date for proficiency exam For the first time since 1983, the Health and Human Services Department will offer a proficiency examination for clinical laboratory technologist. The exam date is set for Aug. 28, 1987, but completed application forms must be submitted along with a $45 exam fee by May 22.

The exam provides an alternative means of qualifying individuals who don't meet the formal education and training requirements of Medicare/Medicaid independent clinical lab regulations. Persons passing the test will be recognized as competent CLTs for these programs. Further, both current Civil Service employees and applicants for Civil Service positions who do not have the prescribed college requirements may qualify for a GS-644 technologist rating if they pass.

Federal Officials estimate that 11,000 to 12,000 laboratorians, many of whom have military or physicians' office lab backgrounds, will be taking the test. It will be administered at 85 U.S. sites, 14 domestic military bases, 6 overseas bases, and Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Stanley Edinger, Ph.D., a senior scientist with the Health Care Financing Administration's Office of Standards and Certification, says the test "should significantly increase the pool of personnel qualified for technologist positions in independent labs. . . We encourage those who wish to take it to obtain an application and submit it in a timely fashion."

Revival of the test has not met with universal approval, however. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists led a group of 10 organizations--including the American Society for Medical Technology--in opposing reinstatement of the exam.

In general, the groups dislike the Government sponsoring proficiency exams when other, private-sector certifications are available. At a minimum, they maintain, the HHS exam should be subject to a "validity" study. Cathy Cohen, director of ASCP's Washington office, explains that would essentially involve testing the test, to make sure it accurately measures the abilities technologists need to demonstrate in the workplace.

Ironically, some HHS officials seem to agree. Cohen cites a recent letter to her group from Robert Helms, HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. It states that latest research shows "the connection between [HHS] exam success and lab performance has not been established."

Originally, the Social Security Amendments of 1972 authorized HHS (then HEW) to provide the proficiency exam through Dec. 1, 1977. The Department developed and administered the exam four times between 1975 and 1977, again in 1979 and once more in 1983. So far, 57,087 laboratorians have taken the exam, and 27,023 have passed it.

Buffeted by various lobbying factions during the last four years, Congress finally approved the latest reauthorization as an add-on to laboratory provisions contained in last year's omnibus budget bill (COBRA). Some Washington opponents suggest that was perhaps more of a backroom lobbying victory than the true will of Congress or the Administration. As has been the case for most of the past decade, it remains to be seen whether this is the latest--or the last--CLT proficiency exam to be sponsored by the Federal Government.

Because this mose recent test authorization is merely an extension of the 1972 legislation, the exam format and eligibility requirements will be the same as for previous tests. Four areas will be covered: clinical chemistry, microbiology, hematology, and blood banking. To pass, candidates must attain an acceptable score in each category.

The test will be multiple choice (criterion referenced, or "task oriented") so as to assess an individual's technical knowledge and lab skills. That is, it measures a person's mastery of a clinical area rather than grading on a ranking or "curve."

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control, which is helping direct the project, say the exam qualifies individuals to work as generalist technologists capable of performing in all areas of a clinical lab. That's why candidates must earn a passing score in all four areas. It also explains why test results are tallied in each specialty rather than by aggregate score.

These officials note that the test's scope and format make it difficult to cram for in, say, one week. They recommend that test takers organize a review of the basics in each of the four specialties, with emphasis on the ones in which they are not currently working.

Some study aids are available. Notably, the American Association of Bioanalysts and the International Society for Clinical Laboratory Technology will jointly sponsor 14 sessions of Proficiency Examination Reviews in 14 U.S. cities this spring and summer. The two-day sessions review principles and practices of clinical lab technology in a way designed to help prepare for the HHS exam. Details and dates are available from the groups at the addresses and phone numbers listed in the accompanying box.

Not everyone who works in a lab can take the exam. Professional Examination Service, the firm administering the exam for HHS, explains that applicants can establish eligiblity in any one of three ways. They are:

I. A) A high school diploma or equivalent, and B) four calendar years of full-time clinical lab experience within six years preceding the exam.

II. A) A high school diplomar or equivalent, and B) two calendar years of full-time clinical lab experience within six years preceding the exam, and C) satisfaction of Medicare requirements for lab technician in an independent lab through successful completion of one of the following:

1. Sixty semester hours of academic credit including chemistry and biology as well as a structured curriculum in medical laboratory techniques at an accredcited institution, or an associate degree including those subjects from an accredited institution.

2. At least one year in a technician training program at an accredited school.

3. An official military medical lab procedures course of at least 50 weeks' duration and attainment of the military enlisted occupational specialist title of medical laboratory specialist (laboratory technician).

4. Two years of pertinent full-time experience as a lab technician trainee in an acceptable clinical laboratory.

5. Previous qualification under the "grandfather" technician provision in a Medicare-approved independent lab.

III. A) A high school diploma or equivalent, and B) a combination of college and years of full-time clinical laboratory experience. Under this alternative, the combination of college credit and experience must total four years with not less than six months' general experience in a clinical laboratory.

Applications come with a handbook noting testing locations and other details. Applications and further information are available from the organizations listed in the accompanying box.
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Title Annotation:Health and Human Services Department; clinical laboratory technologist exam
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1987
Words:1067
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