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Medical technology: career or stepping stone?

Recently, I was talking about old times with a fellow graduate of my medical technology training program. The conversion gradually turned to a "where-are-they-now?" litany about our former classmates. To our mutual surprise, we discovered that these distinguished alumni now include physicians, nurses, sales reps, computer specialists, teachers, and real estate agents.

It dawned on us that very few of our classmates were still practicing the profession we all worked so hard to enter not many years ago. Some had advanced within the health care field, but most had moved on to an entirely different career. Our class is probably fairly typical.

While most professions experience turnover and career changes, our seems to have more than its share. In addition, most of these changes seem to be one-way; rarely do I meet someone who has changed professions to become a medical technologist.

Undoubtedly, the biggest cause for this phenomenon is the chronic lakc of upward mobility in the lab. Advancement opportunities in most organizations usually take the form of a pyramid with a number of levels to attract and retain qualified personnel. The opportunity pyramid in the lab field, however, has been flattened into a few layers of limited potential advancement. The chance to become a supervisor or manager is often not enough to entice highly motivated people to remain in the profession until their time arrives.

Opportunities to move up in the hospital hierarchy are even more remote. Although lab managers must deal with the same myriad problems as hospital administrators, are rarely finds an administrator with a laboratory background. Yet, over the years, I have met administrators with badkgrounds in virtually every other hospital discipline. The organizational structure of most laboratories is largely responsible. When supervisors must work with hospital administration through the medical department head, they wind up with a low visibility factor compared with other department leaders.

Of course, we can't ignore compensation in any discussion of reasons for leaving. Technologists are often frustrated to hear of non-degreed people earning as much as or more than they do. Another major cause of turnover is the burnout and boredom factor. Many leave because they find themselves trapped either in repetitive jobs with little room to exercise judgment or, at the other extreme, in a pressure-cooker position where the demands on their skills outpace the rewards.

What can we do to stem this exodus of the best and brightest from our field? First, we must have a salary structure that allows talented employees to rise quickly and attain a level of compensation and benefits equal to their abilities. Compensation should be tied to merit, not based entirely on such non-performance related items as length of service or the consumer price index. Second, we need well-defined career ladders with multiple rungs, not the step stools offered now. Organizational charts must evolve to create more upward mobility for supervisors and managers. We must also look for more creative ways to tap the potential in a wider segment of the staff, even if itmeans doing away with the traditional allotment of one supervisor to a section. There's nothing wrong, for example, with dividing supervisory and management titles and responsibilities among several qualified individuals.

Finally, training programs must do a better job in recruiting only those students with a good understanding of what the profession is, and a realistic desire to contribute to it. Future MT students should be aware that the jobs awaiting them are not necessarily exciting and rewarding at all times, and that some of their tasks will be menial and routine. We should make every effort at job enrichment, but there are only a certain number of jobs to go around, especially in the current restrictive health-care economy.

Perhaps if we make sure that future professionals enter the field with a cleaner picture of what they're getting into, they won't be in such a hurry to move on.
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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Nov 1, 1984
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