Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023
Victoria Roop, MLS(ASCP)CM
We have all experienced at one point or another the stress and hardships that come with the demands of being a medical laboratory professional. Long hours turn into long days, which turn into long weeks and no end in sight. COVID took a big hit to our laboratory team back in 2020, and the ripple effects flowed into the following years. During this time, we lost two techs to traveling jobs for better pay, two techs retired, and one relocated to a hospital closer to home. We went through traveling techs like a new flavor of ice cream. We lost our morale and sense of self-worth during this time. At one point, I even contemplated quitting and never coming back.
In 2021, our laboratory director took a new approach to the staffing shortages we were facing. She created a new position within the lab for our lab assistants—advanced laboratory assistant. It was going to be a position that would allow the assistants to participate in moderate complex testing with a rigorous on-the-job training program made by our tech team. Once trained, they would be able to help in the testing process to allow the techs some relief from being stretched so thin. Examples would be training in urinalysis, serology testing, molecular testing (especially COVID), micro setups, and analyzer loading. In turn, the techs could focus on maintenance, quality control, new blood bank instrumentation, and training techs in the microbiology department.
“It was a struggle, but our core team persevered and we have come out as the strongest team we have ever been. … It is gratifying to know we paved the way for something new in this industry.”
This new position did not come without its challenges and resistance in the beginning. Concerns about qualifications, training time, and schedules came to the surface. Many questions went through our heads: How can they be qualified to do our work? Why are their schedules only through the weekdays? How are we going to train them on top of doing our workload?
It took months for our team to come to an equilibrium. We had meetings, weekly check-ins, created training guides, and constantly reevaluated the schedule until we, as a team, felt like it worked for everyone. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel arrived.
Now, in 2023 present day, our laboratory team cannot imagine a world without our advanced laboratory assistants. They do so much for us, and it gives them an opportunity they would not have had before. This opens the doors for those who never considered a career in our field but now they do. It closes the gap between the technologists and phlebotomists. It was a struggle, but our core team persevered and we have come out as the strongest team we have ever been. It created motivation to be better and do better as a team. Our morale improved, our stress levels decreased, and some tensions melted away. It is gratifying to know we paved the way for something new in this industry.
To anyone who reads this article, I hope you find your light at the end of the tunnel. If I can give any advice, be open minded to new experiences and think outside the box. Sometimes you have to be creative and speak up to get the support you need. Communication is key!
Victoria Roop is a Medical Laboratory Scientist Blood Bank Lead at Door County Medical Center In Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.