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Things shouldn't go bump in the night.

They often think of themselves as the Rodney Dangerfields of the laboratory: They get no respect. They are that group of usually overworked and underappreciated laboratorians, our night technologists--or "shifters," as they're sometimes unaffectionately called.

If you're like me, you have found that it's more difficult to recruit and retain qualified individuals for night positions than for any others. In the past, night shifts were too often composed of a combination of moonlighters, students, and those who couldn't get a job anywhere else.

Since most laboratories are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would be frightening to think the lab was staffed by less than our best-qualified individuals more than two-thirds of the time. And since many evening shifts are Stat-only operations, these personnel may be responsible for more critical values than the average day shift employee. No wonder many supervisors hold their breath when they come to work each morning, not knowing what surprises the night shift may have left behind.

One positive aspect of the currently tight technologist job market is that some people who wouldn't have considered working a night shift several years ago are now standing in line to apply for a second- or third-shift opening. But while we're seeing more qualified applicants, not everyone is cut out to work evenings.

There are certain qualities a supervisor should look for in hiring night employees. First among these would be previous experience working the night shift. It takes a lot of adjustment to work when everyone is sleeping and vice versa. No matter how hard they may try, some people cannot adjust their biological clock to working after sundown. Our world, and most of its events, are scheduled around a nine-to-five job, and working nights can take its toll both socially and emotionally. If someone presents a resume listing extensive night shift experience, it's a sound bet that he or she has adjusted physically and psychologically to night work.

Other criteria--such as dependability--are equally important. Since we're usually dealing with a skeleton staff, we need people who are virtually certain to show up for work on time. Since the supervisor can't be there seven days a week, these employees must also be reliable enough to work under minimal supervision.

Since none of us appreciates middle-of-the-night phone calls for trivial matters, the problem-solving abilities of the evening shift employee also carry much weight in the selection process. Tossing out a few "what if" scenarios during the job interview may indicate how candidates will react, and how much independent judgment you can expect them to use.

Finally, try to ascertain how cooperative the applicant is. During second and third shifts, team play is an essential. Employees must frequently support each other at critical times throughout the night. Having someone who doesn't pull his or her own weight can disrupt the entire shift.

Avoid the applicant who sees shift work as a quick, convenient way to get a foot in the door en route to a day-shift position. Excessive turnover is as damaging to the night shift as it is to any other. Make it clear to applicants that they are expected to serve a minimum period of time on the shift, and that there is no guarantee they'll be accepted for a day job--because every job will go to the most qualified applicant. An employee who is always looking beyond the current job distracts others and dampens morale.

Once someone is hired, my lab tries to keep from falling into the "out of sight, out of mind" trap. When it comes to laboratory activities, it's easy for us on the day shift to forget those we rarely see. Important meetings should be held during the shift overlap period or scheduled at varying times to insure that the entire staff is kept up to date on lab policy.

The same goes for continuing education; since most formal CE classes are held when late-shift employees are asleep, we must at least offer them effective and convenient in-house alternatives. Even when planning social events, we shouldn't forget our night workers.

When we can't be there, night shift employees needn't feel abandoned. Make sure the laboratory and hospital policy manuals are clearly written and readily available to guide employees through unanticipated situations.

All of us, at some point in our careers, should try working the night shift. We may find it a lonely yet challenging world to work in--lonely because it lacks the social groups and amenities we take for granted during the day, and challenging because we are forced to perform without many of the checks, balances, and support available during prime time.

It's a special situation calling for special people, who deserve more credit than we generally give them.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:hiring for the night shift in medical laboratories
Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Previous Article:Predictive value calculator revised.
Next Article:Medicare takes the wraps off its competitive bidding project.

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