Volume 37 Number 3 | June 2023

Shannon Jongeward, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Patient Safety Committee Chair

Shannon JongewardSince I started in this profession nearly 20 years ago, workforce shortage has always been a hot topic. I have been a part of many discussions, sessions, and classes in which this subject has been discussed. In fact, this was the topic for the opening keynote session at this year’s Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference (CLEC) in New Orleans. Of course, there have been many ideas tossed around about how to attract people into the profession, and while we as a profession are still working on those answers, we must not lose sight of the retention of the workforce we currently have.

At the root of all laboratory services is the patient—patient safety is imperative. Ensuring quality laboratory services is our goal. Because of the constant evolution of healthcare, we must also constantly update our procedures and the technology we use in the laboratory. Thus, we must broaden our knowledge and capabilities through professional development. For the purposes of this article, professional development will be used as an umbrella term to describe employee learning used to apply new skills and knowledge obtained in the field, and continuing education is a type of professional development.

“Supporting the professional development of employees can have a significant return on investment for laboratories.”

In a graduate-level course I teach, I have the students reflect on an article written by Gesme et al,1 that reflects on education and professional development. Even though this article is written towards a physician audience, there are some great take-aways that can be applied to any profession. Essentially, the authors feel that making staff education and development is a priority, stating, “if staff education and development are not a priority for the physicians who own the practice, they will not be a priority for anyone under them.”

Professional development is a need for all laboratorians, and not a luxury.2 Supporting the professional development of employees can have a significant return on investment for laboratories. First, as already mentioned, employees need ongoing education to stay current and competent in the continuously changing laboratory practices. Employees who feel confident in their abilities tend to be more productive and motivated. Motivated employees in a culture where professional development is supported have higher morale and are more committed to their work because they do not feel that their career has stalled out. Committed employees who feel employers care about them may be less likely to leave their jobs. All these return on investments ultimately lead to better patient satisfaction and patient safety.1

Supporting employee professional development does not have to be expensive. There are many free continuing education classes available. Take advantage of institutional seminars and workshops. Reach out to vendors; sometimes they may offer workshops. Collaborate with other healthcare institutions in the area to bring in a “lunch and learn” speaker. Sometimes all it takes is simply to encourage employees to participate in professional development opportunities. It is having discussions with employees who may be feeling “stuck,” finding out their interests, and then helping them find opportunities to learn about their interests and utilize their skills. Encourage employees to utilize any institutional benefits such as tuition reimbursement. Provide employees time at work to complete continuing education.

After my students reflect on the Gesme article, they participate in a class discussion. The overall theme of their discussions is that professional development is very important to employee satisfaction and growth. They feel that supporting professional development is a small cost to retain quality, long-term employees. One student shared an example of how they were able to retain an employee who was not feeling challenged at work. I am sharing this experience with their permission. The student asked the employee about their interests and found (and paid for) an educational class that aligned with the employee’s interests. The student stated that the employee seemed much more engaged after taking the class and felt that if they hadn’t done that, there was a good chance the employee would have sought employment elsewhere—“a small price to pay to retain a good employee long-term.” Comparing the cost of the educational training session versus the total cost of recruiting a new employee, they came out well on top.

While ensuring professional development opportunities for staff is not the end all be all to employee retainment, it may be one of the easier approaches that can be used to retain quality employees. Placing an emphasis on employee professional development is a critical element to employee satisfaction, and ultimately, employee retention.

  1. Gesme DH, Towle EL, Wiseman M. Essentials of staff development and why you should care. J Oncol Pract. 2010 Mar:6(2):104-6. doi: 10.1200/JOP.091089.
  2. Kingrey C. The importance of continued professional development for healthcare providers. Journal of Emergency Medical Services. 2022 June 6. [Internet]. From https://www.jems.com/training/the-importance-of-continued-professional-development-for-healthcare-providers/

Shannon Jongeward is Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota.