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Now is career decision time for MTs.

Now is career decision time for MTs

Employment trends in hospital laboratories sound gloomy. Forty-four per cent of the hospital laboratories surveyed by MLO for this month's cover story reported a decrease in staff since the introduction of DRGs. Many medical technologists seem ready to leave the profession under their own steam--one author claims that more than 25 per cent of them may get out within the next five years.1

Some observers predict that non-degreed employees will soon do most of the routine bench work.2 Professionals whose responsibilities are limited to simple technical tasks are at greatest risk of being replaced, either by less qualified workers or by automated instruments. Others will find themselves reclassified into lower pay slots.

But let's look at the brighter side. Behind all this seeming job insecurity, there are numerous opportunities. For one thing, the survivors will have more challenging roles. Over the years, medical technologists have complained about unprofessional tasks, lack of recognition, and low pay. These disincentives should start fading.

MTs will assume more professional and managerial responsibilities. They will help orient, train, and monitor less qualified employees, and share administrative duties in such areas as quality control, safety, inventory control, data processing, and work scheduling. They will personally perform only the harder tests or serve in a backup capacity at the bench. Their paychecks should reflect the increased responsibilities.

To best serve their students and the laboratory field, medical technology schools must move in this new direction. It would be wasteful to train technologists for jobs that will be taken over by technicians.

Progressive MT schools are putting greater emphasis on professional activities and less on technical tasks. In contrast, the programs of some schools are said to be obsolete;2, 3 they are criticized particularly for insufficient training in supervision, administration, and education.

One problem with continuing education is its shrinking base of support; falling attendance at scientific meetings attests to that. Laboratory workers willing to subsidize their own programs of further development will not go unnoticed by their managers.

In fact, initiative counts for a great deal right now. These are the days of the entrepreneur, the innovator, the idea person. The bold and the enterprising will have a field day. The faint of heart will wring their hands and bemoan their fate.

The first decision is to determine a career course. You might be one of the many technologists who decide to stay put. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you're not passive about it. Strive to make your present job more secure or to modify it. Answer these questions:

How strong are your coping factors? Are you able and willing to perform a broad range of tests. Are you able and willing to alter your work schedule, including acceptance of night and weekend assignments?

Do you have any special skills--for example, in data processing, quality control, inventory control, or troubleshooting? Do you have good teaching ability?

Are you a team player with a solid work ethic? Are you a can-do person and a problem solver? Are you flexible? Creative or innovative?

How can you become more valued? Many experts feel the broadly competent technologist will be in greater demand.2, 4 To expand your expertise, ask to cross-train or to rotate through the various work stations or laboratory sections. Accept assignments to other shifts. Substitute for absent employees. Sharpen your skills as instructor, indoctrinator, quality control specialist, instrument troubleshooter, or committee member.

Review your position description. Discuss with management the possibility of replacing some of your technical duties with professional and administrative responsibilities. Sign up for seminars on interpersonal skills, stress reduction, time management, problem solving, and communication skills.

If, on the other hand, depth is more important than range for the career course you have chosen, seek additional professional experience or training of a specialized type. Workshops may be in your future.

Whatever your plan, earn a reputation as an idea person. That's not someone who occasionally stuffs something into a suggestion box. Idea people step back, look at what they are doing, and come up with ways to do it better or faster. They arrive at work with ideas gleaned from articles they have read, from workshops, or from plain day-dreaming.

Do you aspire to a managerial post? Let's say you opt for a leadership role. Are you able and willing to pursue time-consuming and expensive graduate study, such as an M.B.A. program? Or should you undertake rigorous self-education? In either case, the responsibility to prepare for supervision is yours.

Training in managerial skills would be the cornerstone of a continuing education program for the would-be supervisor. Show interest in supervisory and administrative tasks. Volunteer to substitute for your boss, and accept supervisory responsibilities on weekends. Chair committees. Help with personnel scheduling, budget preparation, inventory control, and updating of procedure manuals.

So much for strengthening or changing your situation within the organization. If the future looks bleak there, however, consider a change of scene. There is a growing migration of laboratory work and workers from hospitals to outside diagnostic laboratories. Make inquiries, read the want ads, and put out feelers.

To make a more drastic change, you can look into the host of different jobs requiring your kind of scientific background. Some of these opportunities may exist in your present organization. Medical technologists have demonstrated an ability to serve in hospital administration, DRG coordinating positions, infection control, quality assurance, data processing, and in-service education.

Further afield, there are numerous job possibilities in industry, especially with pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. If you have sales ability and like to travel and meet people, a sales job may appeal to you. You have already met many individuals in that line of work--the reps who visit your laboratory.

If you like to travel but dislike sales, a job as a field technical representative may suit you. And if you dislike both travel and sales, the job you want could be that of a scientific specialist or research scientist who remains at the home base.

Perhaps you would rather teach. Industry needs specialists to train customers and field representatives. In addition, quality assurance specialists and quality control group leaders are employed by many companies. The American Society for Medical Technology has an excellent publication that lists opportunities in industry.5

Self-employment may beckon to the truly venturesome. Several examples of such entrepreneurism have been described recently.6, 7

As cloudy and uncertain as the future is, you can be sure that it holds new challenges and opportunities. When the dust has settled, many MTs will find that the changes they experienced were favorable and would not have come about were it not for the external forces now pressing them to make career decisions.

1. Rosland, F.A.A study of job enrichment preferences among medical technologists. J. Med. Tech. 2: 127, February 1985.

2. Martin, B.G. Changing directions and roles in the lab. MLO 16(8): 77-80, August 1984.

3. Barros, A. It's time for zero-based lab education planning. MLO 16(8): 21-23, August 1984.

4. Waters, J.H. Getting ready for the future. Lab. Management 24: 57, January 1986.

5. ASMT. "Opportunities in Industry.' Bethesda, Md., American Society for Medical Technology, 1982.

6. Lavigna, J., and Kacar, C. The medical technologist as entrepreneur. MLO 17(11): 85-90, November 1985.

7. Jenna, J. Creating career choices: Advice from an MT turned entrepreneur. MLO 18(6): 30-35, June 1986.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:medical technologists
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Dec 1, 1986
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