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A nationwide survey of more than 4,600 laboratory professionals revealed that most remain satisfied with their jobs despite high levels of stress and burnout. “I think that lab professionals do enjoy and love what they do, but they are inundated by high workload and pay not commensurate with their training and experience,” Edna Garcia, MPH, the study’s corresponding author, told CLN Stat. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) published the survey results in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology.

Few peer-reviewed articles have focused on the wellness of medical laboratory practitioners, Garcia noted. With this in mind, her team developed a survey to assess job satisfaction, well-being, and burnout among lab professionals and offer recommendations on promoting well-being and preventing burnout.

Using an ASCP survey tool, Garcia and her colleagues administered the survey online, receiving data from 4,613 U.S. laboratory professionals. White, middle-aged women predominated the survey, with most respondents in the 55–64 age range. Average career span was 18.2 years, with medical technologist/medical laboratory scientist/clinical laboratory scientist representing the largest occupational group. More than 88% of participants had permanent, full-time positions.

Overall, respondents reported high job satisfaction. More than 62.7% said they were somewhat satisfied to very satisfied with their current job, whereas 37.2% said they were somewhat to very dissatisfied. Nearly all said they felt they produced worthwhile accomplishments and enjoyed their work. While more than 70% said they felt valued by their colleagues, less than half had this sentiment about professionals outside of their team, or felt valued in the field of pathology.

Job satisfaction was highest among performance improvement/quality assurance personnel (73.8%) and lowest among phlebotomists (53.8%).

Job stress remains a persistent problem, even with high satisfaction rates. Respondents cited workload and call duties as the main contributing factors. Working with colleagues also factored into stress. More than 53% reported high stress, compared with 42.7% who felt no stress at all. Understaffing (74.9%), quantity of workload (73.4%), additional responsibilities (59%), uneven distribution of workload (47.6%), and documentation (29.1%) were cited as the top reasons for feeling overwhelmed by workload. The data also showed that men were less stressed than women.

An overwhelming 85.3% reported feelings of burnout, compared with 12.9% who said they never experienced burnout. Half of the respondents cited this as a current issue, pondering alternatives such as changing careers or getting a similar position in a different lab. Professionals over age 65 were less likely to suffer from burnout than their younger counterparts. Interestingly, phlebotomists reported the least burnout (70.1%), despite reporting the highest level of dissatisfaction with their jobs. Molecular biologists reported the most burnout, at 91.8%.

A sizable minority (39.0%) reported that quality of work-life balance was fair, compared with excellent (6.7%), good (34.2%), or poor (19.5%). Those reporting fair or poor work-life ratios also had much higher rates of burnout compared with those with excellent work-life balance.

Respondents cited wellness programs as the most common resource for promoting work-life balance among institutions. “Data show that those who were not offered any well-being resources from their institutions had higher present burnout rates and lower ratings of work-life balance, compared to those who were offered one or more well-being resources,” Garcia said.

It’s important to note that general wellness programs do not address other issues such as caregiving resources, recharge activities, resources to specifically address burnout, peer support programs, mentorship, and increased wages, she continued.

Communication between administration/management (C-suite) and laboratory professionals on how to improve their wellness programs is key, Garcia said. Targeted interventions could help improve the quality of these programs, she and her colleagues suggested.

ASCP had never conducted this type of study before. To Garcia’s knowledge, this is the largest survey of its kind to date. “We purposely made it an exploratory-type survey. Now that we know more about the well-being of the field, we will be able to conduct further research based on the needs of the laboratory professionals.”