Medical technologists play a crucial role in health care, performing 7.3 billion tests annually ordered by physicians to diagnose patients’ illnesses. The results of these tests contribute to 70 to 80 percent of all health care decisions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15,000 new clinical laboratory professionals will be needed each year from 2004 to 2014 due to increased workloads and aging of the workforce, yet fewer than 5,000 are being educated annually. In addition, training programs have been reduced by 30 percent in the past 10 years.
The need for medical technologists in health care is high not only in Maine, but across the country. The United States as a whole currently has an 11.1 percent vacancy rate in medical technologist positions, while New England’s vacancy rate is 14.9 percent.
The problem is not necessarily a lack of interest from individuals looking to enter the field. Rather the problem lies in finding locations to receive the education and complete the 12-month practicum to gain certification.
Currently, there are only two schools in Maine that offer the education to become a medical technologist – the University of Maine and University of New England. While students at UNE are required to find their own training site, UM students receive their training at Eastern Maine Medical Center, currently the only training center in the state.
The intense training required for future medical technologists can put a strain on the training facility’s lab. Currently, six students are accepted each year to complete training at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
Marilyn Kenyon, St. Joseph Hospital’s clinical laboratory director, became concerned about the situation and decided to get involved.
“The motivation for me is to ensure that there continues to be quality laboratory work being done by qualified professionals,” Kenyon said. She began work on having St. Joseph Hospital become part of the students’ internship, having each student complete a two-week rotation at St. Joseph Hospital.
By collaborating in training future medical technologists, the hospitals have made it possible for the UM students to experience working in both a community hospital setting and tertiary hospital setting. This means that the students are exposed to both hospitals’ processes and protocols.
Kenyon said she hopes that the cooperation between St. Joseph Hospital and EMMC will allow more students to complete the required practicum each year, helping to increase the number of qualified medical technologists, especially in Maine.