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Abbott Fund-Sponsored Laboratory Training Initiative Helps Stem Critical Shortage of Medical Professionals in California

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Genetics & Stem Cells News J E 4
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ANAHEIM, Calif., July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Imagine needing a critical test at your local hospital, but having to wait days to be tested because there was no laboratory professional available to run the tests. This scene seems unimaginable, but with the federal government estimating that nearly 140,000 new medical lab professionals are needed by 2012 and only 50,000 are expected to be trained on time, this scenario is a reality in some parts of the country. Some states, like California, are taking aggressive action to reverse this trend.

California's Healthcare Laboratory Workforce Initiative (HLWI), initiated by the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California and supported by the Abbott Fund, has helped to more than double the number of hospitals that provide on-site clinical training for aspiring laboratory science workers. This accomplishment is key since students need to complete clinical training before they can be licensed in California. The HLWI has also helped to ensure hospital training sites expand their programs to allow for more students.

"One of HLWI's initiatives, the Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) and Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) Training Grants Program, awarded grants for innovative and creative projects that significantly increased the number of training positions for laboratory technologists in California," said Tim Hamill, M.D., medical director, University of California San Francisco Clinical Laboratories and co-chair, HLWI. "As a result, California is now a national leader in creating new jobs in the laboratory profession."  

New Training Programs Help Ease Lab Staff Shortages

The boost in the Golden State's lab workforce is helping to ease a serious staffing crisis. The closing of training programs at universities and hospitals, as well as aging lab technologists without an ample supply of successors, led to an average shortage of four full-time employees per hospital laboratory in the state.  

One factor underlying the shortage in California, and nationwide, is that other health professions, such as nursing, are more known and visible, whereas laboratory professionals work primarily behind the scenes. "Only two new laboratory scientists are entering the field for every seven facing retirement. Lack of public understanding and recognition of what lab workers do means fewer young people learn about laboratory science careers," said Art Sponseller, president/CEO of the Hospital Council. "A major problem has been the small number of accredited education programs in California and around the country, and their inability to train large numbers of students."

By helping to establish new training sites, HLWI is motivating hospitals to develop and retain their own staff. Offering training opportunities with pathways for full-time hiring lowers recruitment costs and shortens the learning curve for new workers.

Awareness Building Continues

Labs Are Vital, a program created by Abbott to increase awareness of the laboratory profession, is also doing its part on a national level through scholarship programs, student outreach initiatives and accredited online advocacy programs. "When exposed to the challenges and opportunities in laboratory sciences, high school and college students respond enthusiastically and realize the important roles that labs play in healthcare and in the lives of patients. Through this program students see firsthand that this important profession is a way to convert their interest in science into a fulfilling career," said Brenda Luna, director, Labs Are Vital.

Hamill, while pleased with what HLWI and Labs are Vital have achieved thus far, believes there is much more to do. "It's critical that we continue to consider laboratory professionals as valuable and visible resources for patient care. In order to do so, we must work to provide new tools to make training students less burdensome, encourage establishment of more training sites, and develop preceptor and mentoring programs for interns."

About the Healthcare Laboratory Workforce Initiative

Spearheaded in 2005 by the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, in conjunction with the California Hospital Association, HLWI was created to find innovative solutions to the laboratory workforce shortage. The goal of the HLWI is to increase the number of licensed CLS and MLTs in California in order to meet the demand for such workers across industry sectors. Since the program's inception, the Abbott Fund has supported the Healthcare Foundation of Northern and Central California in their efforts to create the future laboratory workforce.

About Labs Are Vital

Labs Are Vital is a multi-year, multi-faceted education and awareness program sponsored by Abbott Diagnostics. It is designed to elevate the status of lab professionals within the health care community and the general public, address the issues that face the profession today, and serve as a community for professionals to exchange ideas and get new information. The program has a variety of Web-based resources for laboratory professionals, which focus attention on the life-saving work medical laboratory scientists provide in diagnosing disease and improving health outcomes.

About the Abbott Fund

The Abbott Fund is the philanthropic foundation of Abbott, the global health care company. The Abbott Fund's mission is to create healthier global communities by investing in creative ideas that promote science, expand access to health care and strengthen communities worldwide. For more information, visit www.abbottfund.org.

About Abbott

Abbott (NYSE: ABT) is a global, broad-based health care company devoted to the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of pharmaceuticals and medical products, including nutritionals, devices and diagnostics. The company employs approximately 83,000 people and markets its products in more than 130 countries. Abbott's news releases and other information are available on the company's Web site at www.abbott.com.

SOURCE Abbott

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