In the face of a chronic shortage of professionals who are qualified to perform clinical laboratory tests—including those for COVID-19—AACC released a position statement today calling on Congress to provide federal funding to expand clinical laboratory training programs. This will help to ensure that labs have the staffing they need to deliver timely, accurate test results, particularly during public health emergencies such as the current coronavirus pandemic.
In spite of labs’ heroic efforts to meet the demand for coronavirus testing in the U.S., the country’s overall testing capacity continues to fall short of the levels needed to help contain the pandemic. As part of an ongoing AACC survey of U.S. labs, the association has found that a lack of staff is one of the major challenges hindering these critical testing efforts, with 58% of labs reporting this issue. This finding isn’t a surprise, as the nation’s laboratory workforce has been shrinking for decades. For example, in 1990, there were 720 training programs for medical laboratory scientists across the U.S., but that number has now dropped by 15% to only 608. As a result, these training programs no longer produce enough graduates to fill existing lab vacancies. Over the next 10 years, clinical laboratories will need approximately 7,000 new medical laboratory scientists annually, but laboratory training programs currently only graduate 6,000 students a year, leaving a sizeable deficit.
To reverse this trend and ensure that labs have sufficient qualified staff, AACC urges Congress to restore federal funding for medical laboratory scientist training programs. This would give these programs the resources they need to train more students. Lawmakers should also allocate funding to hospitals and/or reference laboratories that provide clinical testing rotations to students from medical laboratory scientist programs. This would help to alleviate another issue that has contributed to the lab staffing shortage, which is the dwindling number of hospital laboratories that are willing to provide students with the supervised clinical experiences that are essential for a complete medical laboratory scientist education. Lastly, AACC recommends that legislators create a loan forgiveness program for clinical laboratory professionals willing to work in underserved areas for a specified period, which could incentivize individuals to enter the field.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on how crucial high quality testing is to patient care and public health,” said AACC president Dr. David G. Grenache. “But the current crisis has also revealed the weak points in our country’s testing infrastructure, such as the fact that the U.S. has allowed the number of laboratory training programs to diminish for years now. We at AACC strongly encourage Congress to restore funding for these programs so that labs can build up the capacity they need to continue to support the country’s response to public health crises such as COVID-19.”
Source: American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC)