The next thirty years comprise a perfect storm scenario for laboratory medicine in terms of meeting professional staffing needs:

  • Millions more people will be insured and able to access the healthcare system far more comprehensively than ever before, including laboratory services
  • Millions of baby boomers adding to the post-65 year old demographic, requiring more frequent and intensive healthcare, including laboratory services
  • Significant numbers of boomer clinical laboratory professionals are part of this retirement tidal wave, contributing to the shortage of available staff
  • The continued rapid development of advanced technology such as molecular genetics. requiring ever more sophisticated instruments and advanced training by staff
  • Increased competition from other healthcare professions that are able to promise and deliver on better working conditions, higher compensation, and greater recognition.
  • Lack of adequate funding for enough schools and graduation capacity to provide the needed numbers of laboratory professionals.

Through all these challenges and stresses, the backbone of the laboratory operation continues to be, and will always be, the dedicated, competent, hard-working laboratory professionals who staff all shifts, multi-task, and respond to callers impatient for test results.  Those who handle all of this should not be taken for granted.  If you lose a good employee, replacement might not be possible for an extended period of time.

A good laboratory manager knows that to retain good staff, you must offer them more than just wages and benefits:

  • Chat with your employees, always greet them by name; be friendly. Be willing to listen. Create a sense of family among your staff.  You cannot reduce the daily stress of testing, emergency situations, time pressures, dealing with difficult people, etc., but you can humanize the environment.
  • Recognize achievements, even if they are routine. If they day has gone well, say so.   If the lab received a compliment, note it.   If the lab achieves a mile-stone (say, a great inspection by your accreditation agency), celebrate it.
  • Recognize and celebrate personal mile-stones, such as birthdays, and employment anniversaries.
  • Support your staff by providing educational opportunities. Hold regular meetings and encourage all staff to talk about issues in their work areas, and how improvements can be made.  Be current on performance evaluations.
  • Be transparent. Keep your staff informed of all happenings, both good and bad.  This can open up new avenues of discussion, problem-solving, and team-building.

These are a few basic yet effective strategies to humanize the workplace; to enhance the sense of being a valued part of the healthcare team. Improved wages and benefits may not be within your control, but these actions are,  and reflect your leadership skills.