Healthcare staffing shortages are a legitimate concern throughout the United States and are of critical concern for Native communities. In particular, our nation’s clinical laboratories are facing a startling and growing shortage of qualified laboratory personnel, with the laboratory labor force aging at a 78% faster rate than the entire U.S. labor market. To complicate matters, it is predicted that the demand for laboratory testing services will increase as our nation ages. While this information may seem grim, it can provide an advantage to recent graduates entering the clinical laboratory field. Nearly every community has openings for clinical laboratory personnel, whether it is a hospital, a physician’s office, a federal facility, or an Indian Health Service clinic.
Institutions of higher education are in a position to address the personnel shortage issue and work with employers to resolve it. Tribal colleges such as Turtle Mountain Community College and many others educate associate degree-level medical laboratory personnel and are helping to address the shortage. But it is important for Native students to have the opportunity to increase their educational level by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science. In doing so, these students will increase their earning potential, be eligible to pursue management positions, and have the opportunity to return to their tribal communities to help their people.
According to the 2013 wage survey conducted by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, laboratory professionals with a Bachelor of Science degree earn approximately $7 more per hour than those who have completed only an associate’s degree program. Northeastern State University (NSU) in Oklahoma offers the 2+2 Online Transitional Degree Completion Program that enables tribal college students who have completed an Associate of Science degree in medical laboratory technology to complete their Bachelor of Science degree in medical laboratory science entirely online while continuing to work in their tribal communities. Both full-time and part-time options are available in this program.
An opportunity to pursue advanced education in the medical laboratory field benefits students, patients, and the community alike. NSU’s program allows students to continue their educational pursuits while working full-time in their communities. With a local healthcare workforce, tribal communities can attain greater patient outcomes and satisfaction while also benefiting from greater economic and civic health.