Inspired by success in advocating for clinical laboratory professionals at the grassroots level, Jesse Day, MLS(ASCP), is spearheading the development of an organization dedicated to raising the profile of laboratorians, ensuring wage equity, and promoting the profession.
The National Coalition for the Advancement of Laboratory Professionals (NCALP) was founded in July 2021 after Day and colleagues successfully convinced a major corporate health system to invest millions of dollars into the system’s clinical laboratory and its workers, funding new laboratory equipment, a weekend shift differential, and sign-on and referral bonuses.
“I’ve personally served in two laboratories that took direct stands in advocating for their laboratory’s needs and even threatening to strike without union backing in one case,” says Day. “In both, the situations were resolved quickly with large financial allocations to laboratory services, including market adjustments and equipment investment. Both times, I somehow became the ‘face of the revolution,’ so to speak.”
Those successes inspired Day to join with other like-minded individuals to form a grassroots organization to represent lab workers. As defined by the governing board, the mission of the NCALP is to “provide direct advocacy for medical laboratory professionals in the areas of education, certification, licensure, and wage equity to assure long-term quality excellence in the practice of laboratory medicine.”
The NCALP governance structure consists of an independent board and professional council made up of 16 voting members, Day, who is the executive director, and the board president, Perry Scanlan, a professor and MLS program director at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. While the coalition is still in its organizational phase, it has more than 3,000 followers on its Facebook page. The board is currently working on a five-year plan and hopes to fund initiatives through a number of methods, including donation-based membership, grassroots fundraising methods, and grants.
Visibility and support needed
When you look at the clinical laboratory workforce shortage, the need for additional visibility and support for laboratory professionals is clear, notes Day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the need for medical laboratory technologists and technicians will increase by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is more than the underlying average increase in all occupations of 7 percent. Almost 26,000 openings for these workers are expected each year over the decade, projects BLS.
Another data source, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Human Resources and Services Administration, projects a 19 percent increase in demand for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians between 2016 and 2030.
Despite this projected need, academic programs are producing just 5,000 graduates per year, according to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (ASCLS), due in large part to a decades-long decline in the number of accredited MLS and MLT programs. Since 1970, the number of accredited programs nationwide has declined from nearly 1,000 to less than 500.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the lab profession, it has also exacerbated the need for trained MLS and MLT personnel, says Day. The NCALP is hoping to address this need as part of its work.
“We are committed to providing direct advocacy for lab professionals in education, professional development, and education,” explains Day. “We are hoping to work in partnership with universities. My own alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, has more than 40 open lab positions right now. We need to do better in recognizing the contribution that clinical lab professionals play in health care. The COVID-19 pandemic has granted us a visibility that has rarely been seen in our lifetime, so if not now, then when?”
Different than other lab organizations
Day acknowledges that there are other professional societies already advocating for laboratory professionals, but he says that NCALP will be a more “boots on the ground” organization that can assist laboratorians with advocating for change within the labs where they work.
“I am a member of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Scientists and the American Society for Clinical Pathology, and they are great organizations,” he says. “I believe our respective organizations play an increasingly important role in lobbying and career development efforts. It’s important that we engage at every level. I would encourage laboratory professionals to get involved with ASCP as a career ambassador and committee volunteer. ASCLS needs professionals for numerous committees and developing plans. NCALP is also a great tool for communities needing their voices amplified and heard to address disparities. Change doesn’t always happen in a day, but it will never happen if we don’t rise to the occasion.”
In October 2021, the NCALP board adopted a statement of position to align with professional societies. The position states, in part, that the “executive committee should work to include collaboration to strategically align common goals and achieve systemic policy change with common partners and professional societies,” including ASCLS, ASCP, AACC and others.
Day says that the NCALP has not yet initiated talks with the professional societies but plans to do so once its strategic goals are fleshed out more. “We don’t hope to stand alone,” he says. “It’s all about connection and growth.”
For more information about NCALP, visit the organization’s Facebook page or contact Day at email@example.com.