"These times are pretty good for lab workers who want to get into management," says Robert Neri, executive vice president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association.
This is good news for staff medical technologists (MTs) who are ready to rise above those endless racks of test tubes but don't want to leave this promising field. The need for talented supervisors and managers should also encourage those who have only begun to consider a career in the clinical laboratory.
Demand Is Climbing
Management opportunities for clinical lab workers haven't always been plentiful.
"As hospitals have consolidated, we've been through a period of marked shrinkage in management positions," says Neri. "But now retirements are opening up a fairly large pool of management jobs."
Joseph Cabral basically agrees. "The demand is pretty great," says Cabral, director of career services at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "But there is turnover, because we can't get everybody into a supervisor or manager position."
Experience Is Key
Lab workers who do move up the ladder sometimes have an edge in their educational background, and usually have enough clinical experience to demonstrate above-average technical and communication skills. In all but large city labs, experience is generally more important than an advanced degree.
To move up in a laboratory, it's critical to have a mentor, ideally the boss you work with every day. And a mentor relationship is just as important once you've landed a supervisory job. "Most of the experience that the individual will get will come from their direct supervisor," Cabral says.
Still, education helps, especially if the desired title is "manager," not "supervisor." But advanced formal training often isn't easy to come by.
Slim Support for Education
"Unfortunately, in today's typical hospital, the continuing-ed budget -- if you have one at all -- is on the skids," says Neri. Shrinking insurance reimbursements are frequently blamed for the dearth of employer financial support for advanced formal training.
"Lab workers now often aren't willing to go to seminars, because they may have to give of their own time and money," says Linda Jones, administrative laboratory manager at Triad Clinical Laboratory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a member of the board of trustees of the American Medical Technologists Institute for Education.
So when applying for work with a particular employer, candidates should ask questions about what tuition assistance is available, and whether the lab can be flexible enough to schedule shifts around classes.
New Duties -- and New Stressors
As a senior manager, Jones's day-to-day duties bear little resemblance to the down-and-dirty bench work of the lab technician or technologist. Jones considers purchases of new equipment, monitors compliance, directs proficiency testing and conducts staff meetings, among many other activities.
"The stress of this job is handling many issues at one time and trying not to forget something," Jones says. "There are so many ways you can make human mistakes."
All supervisory and managerial positions require people skills, organizational savvy and deep technical know-how. Those in higher-level managerial positions must also understand elements of finance, human resources management and other advanced business skills.
Look for a Healthy Salary Increase
Lab supervisors, especially managers, are able to earn substantially more than technicians and technologists.
Medical laboratory technicians make a national median salary of about $40,500, while medical technologists, who often get their feet wet in management by supervising technicians, are posting median salaries of about $56,400, according to Salary.com.
A high-level supervisor, by contrast, earns about $84,000. At top university hospitals in major cities, salaries for managers of multiple labs can push six figures.
But supervisory duties don't always trump technical expertise in terms of earning power. While a low-level supervisor can expect to earn about $59,600, a cytotechnologist is likely to bring in nearly $61,700.