Delmarva’s Clinical Laboratory Workers in High Demand
Hidden in a huge maze of high-tech equipment and specimen holders, laboratory workers are often the unseen, unsung heroes of healthcare.
But in the current labor market, it’s likely that more and more people will want to learn about the work of laboratory technologists and technicians. While many other fields stagnate, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment of clinical laboratory workers is expected to grow by 14 percent by 2018, faster than the average for all occupations.
Peninsula Regional Medical Center has one of the largest laboratories in the region, employing more than 140 people, with 5,500 specimens processed every day and 2 million per year — not only for the Medical Center itself, but also for smaller regional hospitals and doctor’s offices.
That means PRMC also has a great need for lab techs. Education is helping fill the demand: Salisbury University and Delaware Tech have medical laboratory technology programs, and in fact, those students often come to Peninsula Regional for their clinical rotations.
Kurt Hiedler, a technical specialist in chemistry in the PRMC Core Lab, says he did his research before picking a school and a major. “I wanted a program that would give me a job right after I graduated, a technical skill that I could put to use right away,” he says. “And I wanted my job to be local.”
Hiedler chose the Clinical Laboratory Science program at Salisbury University, with a goal of eventually working for Peninsula Regional. He did a rotation the PRMC lab, where he found that the job wasn’t exactly what he had expected. “I had an image of what the job would be — that you’re detached, you’re a scientist. But in fact, you’re working with a lot of people, you get a lot of calls, people need test results quickly.”
Hiedler did join Peninsula Regional’s lab staff after he graduated, and he says it has been rewarding. “I get to work with a lot of skilled, experienced professionals who care tremendously about what they do. They see a tube of blood as an extension of a patient.”
Today, he helps test the equipment on which many patients’ vital tests are carried out. He likes making a difference, and was part of the laboratory’s Lean Project team, which renovated processes in the lab to make it more efficient and streamlined. “It’s important, because we get faster results for patients — 25 to 30 percent faster,” he says. The team continues to meet even after putting new processes in place, to ensure an environment of constant improvement.
“We really brought the lab into the 21st century,” Hiedler says. “I feel it’s the most advanced lab on the Eastern Shore now. If you want metropolitan-style quality, it’s right here.”
Along with smart processes for workers, new technology helps to keep the laboratory up to date. Two new pieces of powerful equipment are among the tools of the Peninsula Regional lab that bring rapid, accurate results to patients. The CellaVision performs automated cell differential counts on blood for technologists to review, and has helped speed up test results and make them more accurate.
Another machine, the Hologic ThinPrep Imaging System, is the only one of its kind on the lower Eastern Shore. It represents a significant advance in diagnostic capability for comprehensive and accurate cervical cancer testing. In one study, the ThinPrep Imaging System was found to have a 50% reduction in false negative results. Cells of interest are highlighted for cytotechnologists’ review, helping them to better focus their interpretive skills where it counts most.
Patients and doctors alike rely on the knowledge and experience of laboratory workers, and Peninsula Regional’s advanced technology, to deliver critical test results. Faster clinical laboratory testing can mean faster treatment, so it’s important for the Medical Center to have a lab on-site, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deliver the best patient care possible.