While no one finds the sluggish U.S. economy a good thing, one laboratory professional characterizes it as opportunity amidst challenge.
Glen McDaniel, MS, MBA, MT, MLS, DLM, has been in healthcare for 36 years, both in the lab and now as a consultant to GM Global and Kaiser Permanente, as well as a writer and speaker. The Atlanta resident sees changes in the industry, brought on by an economy that has been more than a little rocky.
"The laboratory career ladder has been fairly flat," said McDaniel. "You get a four-year degree, a graduate degree, a doctorate and you are still working at the bench. Folks used to become specialists - PhD-level microbiologists, clinical chemists and hematologists, etc. But now, because of insecurity in the healthcare sector, they are doing cross-training again."
McDaniel said that the economy has had a clear impact in terms of staffing models in the laboratory sector, and that mandatory cross-training is the result.
"When someone who has been a microbiologist for 15 years wants to change jobs, he might now have to be cross-trained in blood banking," said McDaniel. "That's one of the direct ways folks are being affected by the economy. They have to become generalists again, and that's a total turnaround. Flexibility is required across the entire healthcare arena."
Yet while expectations and demands may have changed, the outlook for laboratorians is not all doom and gloom. The silver lining to contemporary clouds, said McDaniel, is opportunity.
"We are facing a shortage of healthcare workers as baby boomers retire out. Especially with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, we will need to be able to meet the needs of potentially larger numbers of patients," said McDaniel, before offering a solution. "We will need more team care instead of silos of professionals. There will be new opportunity for laboratorians to round with physicians and help decide what tests to order, and how to interpret those tests."
McDaniel is excited about the professional opportunities that will grow from a changing model of healthcare delivery. "Because of the coalescing of various things - more concentration on preventative medicine, fewer providers available - we may be forced to utilize a team approach - five or six professionals in a team looking at each patient," he explained.
"Instead of a care plan being driven by one physician referring a patient to many other people, who are not necessarily talking to each other, we can employ one team rounding and discussing together. Imagine what a difference that would make," said McDaniel. "Outcomes will be better, patients will be discharged sooner - and for hospitals, if you are getting paid per episode of illness, you certainly want to get that patient out faster, because you are getting a finite number of dollars per hospitalization."
So while a healthcare provider shortage is a challenge amidst a tight economy, it presents a real opportunity as well, both for laboratory professionals and hospitals. "It's a win-win situation," proclaimed McDaniel. "Some healthcare futurists have been predicting this for a while. I believe the time has finally come."
Valerie Neff Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org