It is difficult to ignore all the ‘Help Wanted’ signs displayed around town. Several of the local businesses my family patronizes have been affected by labor shortages secondary to the pandemic and the “great resignation.” Although we can live without many of the superfluous goods and services we are accustomed to, it is frightening to envision a future where medical services might become limited due to lack of employees.

The clinical laboratory workforce has been battling personnel shortages long before the pandemic. The root of this problem is multifactorial, but it boils down to simple supply and demand. In the last 20 years, there have been fewer graduates from clinical lab education programs due to school closings. At the same time, the need for lab services is increasing because of expanded insurance coverage and an aging population in need of medical care.

Moreover, with the added pressure of the pandemic, some lab workers have opted to retire, while those that remain have been forced to shift focus to COVID-19 testing and take on more responsibility to maintain lab operations. Add to that, lack of visibility/recognition, limited opportunities for career progression, and an often-underwhelming pay scale, and it is easy to appreciate how this issue has worsened.

Today’s presentation, “The Clinical Laboratory Workforce: Essential Before, Critical Now, and a Blueprint for a Stronger Future,” aims to strengthen the outlook of our field by directly dealing with these challenges. Edna Garcia, MPH, of the American Society of Clinical Pathology, and Dr. Bianca Frogner from the University of Washington’s Center for Health Workforce Studies, will present their findings on challenges and potential solutions for meeting the needs for the clinical laboratory workforce.

These experts bring with them years of experience in healthcare services delivery and labor economics and have published studies quantifying employee shortages and highlighting factors that contribute to this problem.

Attendees can look forward to learning about areas of opportunity identified in their study: “The Clinical Laboratory Workforce: Understanding the Challenges to Meeting Current and Future Needs,” published in April 2021. The speakers will also highlight their “Blueprint for Action,” a document that includes concrete recommendations and can serve as a reference to initiate change.

In their session, Garcia and Frogner will summarize needs, explain barriers, and focus on three core aims to reverse current trends: Increasing the visibility of clinical lab occupations, expanding and improving workforce recruitment/retention, and focusing on diversity and inclusion in lab environments.

Each of these tactics comes with specific recommendations, action-items, and lists of key actors and target audiences. For example, one recommendation that we can begin working on is to promote interest in lab careers in elementary and middle school students. Thinking back to how I developed an interest in science, this proposal really resonates (thanks again to Mr. Swenson, my 7th grade Science teacher).

Garcia’s goal is to galvanize the field to take immediate action, partner with other professional societies, and to develop strategies that will tackle the aims highlighted above. Attendees can be certain they will walk away knowing more about the lab profession’s current challenges and future needs, and what must be done to ensure a vibrant future for this field.