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Part-time employment in labs benefits MT students and programs.

College enrollment is down and likely to keep dropping during the next decade. Allied health programs have not escaped this trend.As medical technology schools close and laboratories find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain workers, the MT programs that remain report a decline in the quantity and quality of

6,7 applicants .

For a medical technology program to remain viable, its faculty must develop a marketing plan that makes the program most attractive to a diminishing applicant pool. One way is to trumpet the program's advantages, such as research opportunities, specialized clinical rotations, extracurricular activities, and cultural events. A particularly strong selling point is the chance to work part time in a clinical laboratory, gaining both an income and valuable work experience to add to one's resume.

A paycheck is a powerful lure. Before a medical technology program can promise one, however, many prospective students would be interested in earning money during the school year.

One way to do this is to find out whether current students have lined up health care jobs on their own. School officials must also prevent students' part-time work responsibilities from hampering scholastic performance. The one area in which enrollment is expected to increase is among nontraditional students-most notablyadults returning to school many of whose responsibilities outside the classroom include jobs and families.

Recognizing this phenomenon, the department of laboratory sciences at Thomas Jefferson University decided to poll three successive graduating classes to find out how students spent their "free" time. We wanted to ascertain how many hours students worked at paying jobs each week during their two years with us.

The faculty suspected that many students worked a good deal and worried that the study time lost would inhibit their academic pursuits. I wanted to know how much-and where-the students worked and how they thought such outside endeavors affected their studies.

The hypothesis was as follows: if students believed paid employment enhanced their college studies-on top of the obvious advantage of providing income and experience-our medical technology program could incorporate this benefit into its recruitment efforts. The grapevine indicated that many of the students had clinical jobs, thus supporting the hypothesis. To investigate further, we decided to conduct a quantitative study. o Methods. The survey population consisted of the three most recent graduating classes of our medical technology program, those of 1987 through 1989. The small class size-about 15 graduates each year-made it possible to dispense with formal sampling and poll the entire class.

To save time, I chose to use a self-administered questionnaire rather than to do individual interviews. In 1987, we began distributing the questionnaires to the graduating seniors during class time. To avoid experimenter bias, I asked another medical technology faculty member to administer the survey and collect the questionnaires. Any student who missed the class session at which this activity was done found a copy of the questionnaire in his or her mailbox along with a request to return the completed form to my office.

Besides giving the school some information for constructing marketing strategies, I believed the three-year accumulation of data would help us predict probable work patterns in future classes.

The college currently has a work-study program for students who need financial aid. These students are employed by the college and may not work more than 20 hours during any two-week pay period. Students who find their own jobs are given no such formal restrictions. I began to suspect that the freedom to work would

rove to be a critical factor in the decision to attend our institution. o Results. A total of 39 graduating seniors (87 per cent) returned their questionnaires during the three-year study. Thirty-five (90 per cent of those responding to the survey) had held a job at some time during the two-year school program. Of the latter group, 32 (91 per cent) had worked in a health-related field. Complete results are presented in Table 1.

Money to pay for textbooks and room and board was cited as the main motivator in seeking a part time job (Table 11). Tuition expenses and a desire to gain solid work experience ranked second and third, respectively. (A t-test to analyze the difference between the means demonstrated no statistically significant variation.)

Students participating in the three-year survey logged an average of 18.8 hours on their jobs each week. Two-thirds believed such employment "greatly helped" or "somewhat helped" their academic pursuits (Table 111). One noted that the part-time job had provided a greater knowledge of medical technology and offered a preview of career options. Another said the job had helped clarify personal goals.

Despite their own full schedules the survey participants said they would counsel other medical technology students not to spend too many hours on nonacademic work. As Table IV shows, 35 per cent believe that 13 to 16 hours per week is the optimum workload for a full-time student. Another 35 per cent cite a weekly workload of 9 to 12 hours as the upper limit for juggling job and school successfully. Noting that part-time lab work was a fine way to become familiar with laboratory procedures, one respondent admitted that schoolwork sometimes suffered from the demands of a schedule that required working alternate weekends. 9 Predictions. The survey results support the faculty's original premise: that our medical technology students spend a substantial amount of time working in jobs outside academia. The average weekly workload of more than 18 hours, however, was somewhat higher than had been generally assumed.

I find it interesting that the overwhelming majority of these students worked more hours than they thought sensible. Only 16 per cent of this group stated that it was possible for a student to work more than 16 hours per week without infringing on academic responsibilities, yet many of these same students were doing just that. One possible explanation is that while a student felt that he or she could carry such a heavy load, the same routine might be inadvisable for the "average" student to follow. 9 Conclusions. I think it is reasonable to assume that future students will continue to seek part-time employment in health related fields. Second, they would probably object vociferously if the faculty tried to curtail this practice. Students would likely cite their need to cover expenses and argue that lab-related afterschool jobs actually benefit their studies.

More to the point, I believe the results could be used to bolster recruitment efforts. The promise of a part-time job in the laboratory might tip the balance in a student's decision to attend the university. Indeed, some students who are already on track to enter the medical technology program ask to begin a part-time laboratory job before the junior year, when they traditionally transfer into our two-year upper-division college. No one has been denied permission to do so.

Finally, students who worked during their college days did so by choice. The surplus of available part-time jobs at the university well exceeded the number of student applicants. I believe this imbalance reflects the prevailing shortage of laboratorians rather than lack of interest on the students' part.

Medical technology programs must become more and more competitive in order to survive. An informal jobs bureau created to accommodate the part-time employment needs of current and prospective students could give MT schools the recruitment edge they need. We certainly make sure that prospective students know what's available when our own college recruiters go out in the field. n
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:medical technology
Author:Flynn, John C., Jr.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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