Shortage of Laboratory Scientists, K-12 Students Learn Skills Needed for the Field

Apr 28, 2011, 15:46 ET from HealthForce Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, April 28, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- To address the shortage of clinical laboratory scientists across the nation, industry and education are partnering to build a pathway for students from middle school to adulthood to foster interest, skills, and degrees in healthcare.

A doctor or a nurse may be the most commonly known career in the healthcare industry, but students throughout Minnesota are learning clinical laboratory scientists have strong career and employment opportunities. There is a critical shortage of technicians in the field because of retirement, awareness, and skills.

Other factors pressuring the field are the increasing number of tests needed for general patient care, disease control and the maladies of an aging population. Industry experts predict test usage will increase 17% as the population ages.

For the past four years, laboratory professionals from Allina Hospitals and Clinics involve seventh graders at Chippewa Middle School in interactive curriculum designed to teach about hematology, urinalysis, blood bank, phlebotomy, microbiology and lab instruments.

"The sessions make an impact on students," said Christine Warden, science teacher at Chippewa Middle School in the Moundsview Public Schools. "Throughout the school year they will reference what they learned during these sessions."

"Since 2010, over 500 – 7th grade students have had the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of Medical Laboratory," said Mary Jo Huebner, Workforce Planning and Sourcing Specialist at Allina Hospitals & Clinics. "We hope to expand this model to other grade levels and Minnesota school districts in the future."

Outside of the classroom, high school students are also receiving hands-on training through Scrubs Camps every summer. Initially focused on first generation students, these healthcare camps help students explore the medical field, determine what education is needed to get into the area of their choice, and experience college life for a week.

Nathan Kendrick, the State Laboratory Training Coordinator for the Public Health Laboratory Division of the Minnesota Department of Health taught Scrubs Camp students how important laboratory testing can be, not only in a clinical setting, but also from a public health prospective. "It was really rewarding to give students the opportunity to work with the actual instruments I was talking about to get real results, and then interpret those results into real outcomes," said Kendrick.

The Minnesota Department of Health also works with the Fairview CLS (clinical laboratory students) Program, to offer post-secondary students clinical lab rotations in virology.

"It is imperative that we engage students at a young age and foster their interest in the healthcare field because there will be such a shortage," said Valerie DeFor, director of Healthcare Education and Industry Partnerships at HealthForce Minnesota. Projections show that employment of clinical laboratory workers is expected to grow by 14 percent through 2018, faster than the average for all occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Clinical labs are an integral part of health care facilities and more than 70% of the information that a patient receives about treatment and diagnosis comes from the lab. April 24April 30 is National Clinical Laboratory Week.

SOURCE HealthForce Minnesota