A new study examining work stress in lab staff aims to identify interventions that can create a better work environment
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How Does Work Stress Affect the Health of Laboratory Professionals?

A new study of work stress in lab staff aims to identify interventions that can create a better work environment

Jordan Campbell

Jordan Campbell is an undergraduate student in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, working as a research assistant for this project.

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,Letycia Nuñez-Argote, MPH, CPH, MLS(ASCP)CM

Letycia Nuñez-Argote, MPH, CPH, MLS(ASCP)CM, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

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Published:Dec 08, 2021
|Updated:Jan 20, 2022
|3 min read
Letycia Nuñez-Argote

Jordan Campbell is an undergraduate student in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, working as a research assistant for this project. Letycia Nuñez-Argote, MPH, CPH, MLS(ASCP)CM, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.


Work stress can have serious impacts on the health of clinical lab professionals, potentially leading to long-term health problems, as well as interfering with patient care. Our research team at the University of Kansas has received funding to study stress, pain, and other health concerns and how they contribute to work-related health burdens among laboratory professionals. Our ultimate goal is to identify proper interventions that can both reduce stress and improve the well-being of professionals in this field.

Workforce shortages and heavy workloads

In the past decade, more people in the United States have gained access to health care services, with the health care industry becoming the fastest growing sector in the economy. But, while the demand for these services has increased, staffing shortages within the industry have remained constant. As we know, this is true for laboratory professionals working in clinical laboratories. Increased vacancy rates have led to heavy workloads and high stress levels among health care workers who are already at risk of injuries and illness related to their work activities. 

"Increased vacancy rates have led to heavy workloads and high stress levels among health care workers who are already at risk of injuries and illness related to their work activities."

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse for these workers, contributing to mental health concerns such as burnout, fatigue, depression, and anxiety, which can affect their overall health.

Work stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that happen when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. It is vital that we investigate work-related burdens within the clinical laboratory as the testing conducted by clinical lab professionals is key to the successful diagnosis and care of every patient. If ignored, work burdens can lead to long-term health problems which, in turn, may prompt workers to leave the workforce, perpetuating the problem. High vacancy rates and burnout in the laboratory create problems such as delayed laboratory testing and the potential for higher medical error rates, which can ultimately interfere with the quality of patient care.

Investigating the risks associated with work stress

Our research team at the University of Kansas has received funding from the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest (HWC) at the University of Iowa and Washington University to study stress, pain, and other health concerns among laboratory professionals. The study, titled “Work-related Exposures and Occupational Health Burdens on Laboratory Professionals,” investigates poorly understood risks associated with the work of these professionals. The study includes a confidential online survey to seek information about these problems, followed by focus groups with laboratory workers in the Midwest.

The results will help determine which factors contribute to work-related health burdens to help identify interventions that can both reduce stress and improve the well-being of clinical professionals. These interventions could then be implemented by laboratory mangers and leaders to reduce the turnover rate and promote a more positive work environment.

"The results will help determine which factors contribute to work-related health burdens to help identify interventions that can both reduce stress and improve the well-being of clinical professionals."

Initially only open to 10,000 randomly selected laboratory professionals, the survey is now open to all lab professionals until February 16, 2022.

Please share this information with your lab colleagues. You can find our team on Facebook @LabWorkforceHealthStudy and Instagram @LabWOHS. By helping us increase awareness of the study, you’ll be a part of this significant effort to better understand and reduce work stress in the clinical lab. 

This project was supported, in part, by a pilot project grant from the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest (HWC) at the University of Iowa and Washington University. The HWC is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. U19OH008868 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The contents are solely the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, NIOSH, or the HWC.

Note: This article was edited on January 19, 2022, to reflect the fact that the “Work-related Exposures and Occupational Health Burdens on Laboratory Professionals" survey is now open to all participants until February 16, 2022, at this link.