CEO SUMMARY: It was back in 2002 when THE DARK REPORT highlighted the innovative use of MT and MLT long distance training by PeaceHealth Laboratories (formerly Oregon Medical Labs). Distance training is part of a comprehensive program to attract individuals in the community with two-year and four-year degrees and give them an “earn while they learn” career path toward certification as medical laboratory technicians (MLT) and medical technologists (MT). Here is an update on this business strategy.
ACROSS THE NATION, demand for medical technologists (MT), medical laboratory scientists (MLS), and medical laboratory technicians (MLT) continues to exceed the annual supply of new graduates.
It is a problem that is further aggravated by the fact that an average of 10,000 baby boomers now turn 65 years old every day! This retirement surge began on January 1, 2011, and will continue for 20 years. It also means the clinical laboratory industry must now confront this long-predicted labor crisis.
Med Tech Training Programs
Because many cities lack even one established MT or MLS training program, lab administrators and pathologists in those regions are especially challenged to find adequate numbers of qualified MTs, MLSs, and MLTs to keep their labs at authorized levels of staff.
However, one sizeable laboratory organization in the Pacific Northwest has developed an effective strategy to tap its local labor market to develop its own med techs, despite the fact that the closest MT training program is located more than 100 miles away.
In Eugene, Oregon, PeaceHealth Laboratories, Inc. (formerly Oregon Medical Laboratories) now has eight years of success using distance learning programs to fill its needs for MTs and MLTs.
“The use of distance learning programs has played an important role in allowing us to attract and retain talented people,” stated CEO Ran Whitehead. “If your lab is located in a community that doesn’t have a local MT and MLT training program, then distance learning is an effective way to expand the supply of qualified staff by offering a career path to local residents who are often eager to work in your laboratory.”
PeaceHealth Laboratories (PHL) has coined a phrase to describe how distance learning can help individuals improve their earning potential. “We use the term ‘salary power’ to describe this ongoing staff recruitment and educational development program,” added Whitehead. “It is a message that resonates in our university town.”
Eugene is home to the University of Oregon (UO) and has a population of about 156,000 people. “After graduation, many students would like to get a job in Eugene so they can continue to live here. However, our community has limited job opportunities for graduates.”
PHL recognized that the pool of recent UO graduates could be tapped as a source of new medical technologists. “It was back in 2002 that we realized we could offer Bachelor of Science (BS) graduates an employment package that incorporated their BS degree with an MT distance learning program offered through the Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly known as the Medical College of Georgia),” he explained. “They could work at PHL while they obtained their MT certification.” (See TDR, October 7, 2002.)
At that time, PeaceHealth Laboratories was experiencing a wave of retirements even as its growth rate was accelerating. “These factors made it essential for us to maintain existing staff levels and be prepared to add more MTs and MLTs to support increased testing by our hospitals in tandem with our continuing growth in outreach specimen volume,” recalled Whitehead.
Distance Learning for MTs
“At that time, the closest MT training program was at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), 100 miles away in Portland,” he continued. “OHSU did not offer distance learning opportunities. That is why we decided to use the distance training program offered by the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU), which is located in Augusta, Georgia.”
PeaceHealth Laboratories created a comprehensive career path for prospective and current employees who had a Bachelor of Science degree. “We established a tuition reimbursement policy that pays up to $1,500 annually for a qualifying training program,” noted Whitehead. “Our goal was to give employees a way to both live in Eugene and improve their earning power.
“Of course, there is the requirement that these students supplement the didactic online learning experience with hands-on clinical training in our laboratory,” he said. “PHL managers help distance learning students with their internships and assign qualified staff to be mentors.”
Grants from Lane County
Another effective business strategy that PHL used in 2002 was to apply for a training grant from the Lane County Economic Development Corporation. The first grant award totaled $127,824.
Since its inception in 2002, this staff development program has been successful for PeaceHealth Labs. “We have at least 16 to 18 program participants who stayed with our laboratory after completing their MT certification,” stated Whitehead. “To date, 90% of the employees who went through the distance learning program continue to work in our lab.
“This demonstrates how distance learning creates ‘salary power’ for an individual who wants to achieve certification as a medical technologist,” he added. “During the eight years that PHL has used distance learning programs, it has been quite effective at helping us recruit and retain talented people in a smaller community where such career opportunities are limited.”
It was eight years ago when THE DARK REPORT first profiled this innovative use of long distance learning programs by PeaceHealth Laboratories. As noted above, this has been an effective business strategy to tap Bachelor of Science graduates in the community, and give them a defined career path to work in a good job while they earn their certification as a medical technologist.
At PeaceHealth Labs, Distance Learning Is Effective Strategy for Recruiting New Lab Staff
FOR ALMOST A DECADE, THE USE OF DISTANCE LEARNING has been a key tool in recruiting, training, and retaining medical technologists (MT) and medical laboratory technicians (MLT) at PeaceHealth Laboratories, Inc. (formerly Oregon Medical Laboratories), in Eugene, Oregon.
One leader in this effort is Laura Lee Feiner, MT(ASCP), MPA, who is PeaceHealth’s Human Resources Laboratory Educator. Feiner took on a master’s degree in Public Administration, spent 25 years in the laboratory, and now has eight years’ worth of laboratory training delivery where she has taught hematology, immunology, and blood banking.
Feiner views distance learning for clinical laboratory professionals as an ongoing, developing model. “Even as the student acquires scientific knowledge from the academic portion of the program, there is the need to gain hands-on training within the laboratory,” she explained. “It is in the clinical laboratory that students learn the practical applications of laboratory medicine. This can range from understanding how laboratory automation developed and is used, to how the lab manages the results from automated equipment, and how functions such as QA/QC are handled in these settings.”
One challenge is aligning the schedules of the distance learning student and the mentors within the laboratory. “Carving out time for both employees to meet simultaneously is sometimes difficult because of their individual daily workloads,” said Feiner.
Using Distance Learning
The long distance training program for MTs and MLTs utilized by PeaceHealth is offered through the Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly known as the Medical College of Georgia). “Student employees in the laboratory go through an internship,” noted Feiner. “Our primary MLT (associate’s degree) distance training program is with Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon.
“For qualifying employees, PeaceHealth Labs offers scholarships of up to $1,200 for an MLT program and up to $3,000 for an MT/MLS program,” stated Feiner. “Those seeking associate’s, bachelor’s, and/or master’s degrees must make time for the internship between work and their studies.
“Every employee in any program, however—including distance learning—not only learns how to get laboratory test results, but also how to interpret them,” she said. “We emphasize the original four basic areas of study—hematology, immunology, microbiology, and blood banking.”
Role Of Advisory Committee
For annual feedback concerning all course-work for PeaceHealth Laboratories’ distance learning curriculum, Feiner said she is the liaison as a member of an advisory committee that includes representatives from the medical laboratory industry, academia, and clinical advisors. When PeaceHealth Laboratories implemented automated immunology and molecular testing, for example, the advisory committee recommended changes in the curriculum.
“In our training program, molecular was first included in microbiology,” recalled Feiner. “Then it was part of immunology. Now we have molecular as its own primary area of research and study.
“Less than 10% of distance learning programs for MTs and MLTs have a robust molecular program,” continued Feiner. “But this is a fast-growing area of laboratory medicine and students need to know the theory of molecular testing, supplemented by hands-on experience so they fully understand it.”