Have you ever hired a technologist who has been away from the clinical laboratory for 10 years or more?

In my early career, I had the “pleasure” of training a tech who had stepped away from the laboratory to be a stay-at-home mom.  I was a young mother myself so I envied her for having the ability to do that.  She worked until she delivered, then stayed at home until her youngest child was in full-time school.

She was a lovely person. She was very attentive, smart and compassionate.  But unfortunately, she had not retained any of the skills and insights that the really good techs seem to have been born with.  Maybe she never had them.  I don’t know.

Unfortunately for everyone, it did not work out.  After 6 months of training in various departments, she was not a good fit for any of them.  Her departure was mutual, and without drama.  But the time spent with the interview process, the training, and the rerunning of the ad meant we were short-staffed for about a full year.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and now I am the laboratory manager.  I had a need for a per-diem technologist who could fill in on a flexible nature, and support my full-time staff in a molecular biology physicians’ office lab.  Knowing that per-diem technologists often lack sufficient training and practice, I required someone who would work at least 5-8 hours per week, every week, so there were no questions of proficiency and competency. Since our lab is performing high-complexity testing, concerns of compromised patient care are escalated with part-time and per-diem technologists, if they are not as competent as the full-time staff.

Once the advertisement was posted, I was anxious to see the resumes received.  Many of them were from people who did not meet minimum qualifications.  Some were from PhD’s looking for a place to use for their research, and some were from scientists from other countries looking for a sponsor to work in the United States.

Then there was one from a medical technologist who had worked for 12 years in a hospital laboratory.  She worked at a teaching and research hospital, specializing in Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics. I was excited reading her resume, but then I noticed the dates.  She had left that position close to 10 years prior.  Her most recent job history showed her as a Practice Administrator at a dental office.

I was having flash-backs of my previous experience with an employee who was out of the field for an extended time.  Could I take the risk?  Did I have 6 months to a year to possibly “waste” retraining someone whose skills had lapsed?

Since I had not received any other applications for viable candidates, I took a shot by setting up an interview.  What harm could that do?

I interviewed the candidate, and was so impressed; I practically hired her on the spot.

She had a full-time job elsewhere but was able to work it out to train for 4 days a week for 2 weeks straight.  After that, she trained a little bit less.  By the end of 90 days, she was fully trained and working just as any of my full-time employees.

So I asked myself, “What made this candidate different?”  “What changed between my previous experience and now?”

And then I asked her, “Why do you think this has been such a successful working arrangement that has lasted for more than 3 years?

Together, we came up with some ideas:

  • The reason she left the lab 10+ years ago – My successful applicant did not leave the field because she was disillusioned, burned out, or unhappy. She wasn’t looking to leave medical technology to get away.  She didn’t choose to replace full-time work in the lab with a different path. She left out of the need to assist in the opening of her husband’s practice as the Practice Administrator.
  • She stayed in the healthcare field during her hiatus – Although her work was more administrative than technical, she was still relating to medicine, insurance, and healthcare every day.
  • The reason she came back – She didn’t “need” to go back to work at a lab. She “wanted” to go back to work at a lab. She still maintains her full-time administrative role, but her time in our lab is an opportunity to return to her passions of the early days in her career.  It’s something she does for herself, which turns out to be a huge benefit for our patient’s and other employees.

Some credit must be given to the environment of the physicians’ office lab versus a hospital laboratory.  We are very busy, servicing 60 physician office locations, but we have nowhere near the pace and stress of a hospital laboratory.

Most importantly, however, I give credit to this employee whose personality, professionalism and work-ethic make her per-diem status a success. She works 6 scheduled hours per week to keep up her competency, and often agrees to extra time when we have the need. She has to work harder to maintain her competency since she is only here one day a week, but she doesn’t complain or gripe. There is a very different feeling when working with someone who comes to work with the purpose and desire to make the world a better place, one patient sample at a time.

So as I finish writing this, I ask myself, will I take a chance on hiring another medical technologist who has been out of the field for an extended period? Will I trust the accuracy of my lab’s results and my lab’s reputation on a per-diem employee with lapsed skills?

The answer is, YES!