Illustration of a person silhouette drawn on a chalkboard in the middle of a magnifying glass.
Simple strategies that clinical labs can use to attract more CLSs.
iStock, Sezeryadigar

Three Tips for Understaffed Laboratories

Why does one clinical lab struggle with staffing while the other down the street doesn’t?

Photo portrait of shawn\ wierzbowski
Shawn Wierzbowski

Shawn Wierzbowski founded Intro, a medical technologist recruitment company, in the fall of 2019. There was a clear need for a recruitment company that focused solely on the field of...

ViewFull Profile
Learn about ourEditorial Policies.
Published:Feb 10, 2022
|Updated:Oct 20, 2022
|4 min read
Shawn Wierzbowski

Shawn Wierzbowski founded Intro, a medical technologist recruitment company, in the fall of 2019. He founded the company as there was a clear need for a recruitment company that focused solely on the field of clinical laboratory science to help connect labs and lab professionals with permanent opportunities. Shawn’s last two years with Intro have provided him a unique view of the clinical industry both from the perspective of clinical laboratory scientists and hiring labs.

Here is a real-life scenario I encountered about 6 months ago between two labs—let’s call them “lab A” and “lab B.” Both are located only about 5 miles from each other, and both are similar in size and in terms of the different types of clinical laboratory scientists (CLSs) that work in the labs. Lab A was suffering from critical understaffing, while Lab B had one or two openings that weren’t urgent. So, why the difference?

The shortage of CLSs will always be a challenge for clinical labs. But one thing I’ve learned is that there is a spectrum of understaffing. Thus, the question becomes, why does one lab struggle while the lab down the street barely has a problem?

In this article, I’ll share some simple strategies that clinical labs can use to attract more CLSs.

How much of a role does compensation play?

In a recent poll of 1,000 CLSs, Intro found that 63 percent of participants labeled “pay” as the main motivating factor to them looking for a new role. That means that on average, more than half of all resignations are a direct result of compensation. Thus, out of every two people that resign from your lab, one could be kept if compensation were sufficient.

At the end of the day, running a clinical laboratory is a business, and often, there is only so much that can be done for employee compensation. However, we’ve found that laboratories in the middle to high end of the market do vastly better in terms of understaffing compared to those in the bottom 50th percentile. Another important factor to consider would be to commensurate with years of experience. We recommend having a competitive base-level pay with additional tiers of compensation based on experience. 

In addition, we have found through experience that signing bonuses make very little difference, especially when they are paid out over a period of three years—when taxed and spread out over that term, a $10,000 signing bonus doesn’t significantly increase a paycheck. Thus, signing bonuses can sometimes be a great tool, but do not count on them as the only way to help your lab attract new candidates. 

Why does hiring traveling clinical lab professionals cause problems?

Traveling clinical lab professionals can be very helpful for a certain segment of the clinical market that does not have access to clinical professionals. But in the past year or so, the definition of a traveling CLS has changed with travelers remaining in one lab for 12 to 18 months. Because traveling CLSs are paid a higher rate, they are expensive for labs to hire, which can lead to problems for internal CLS staff.

Some labs may justify the added cost of hiring a traveling clinical professional by assuming that after a certain period of time, they can hire them on a more permanent basis, but this approach is flawed. For one, why would a traveling CLS take a permanent role in a new place that is unfamiliar to them?

Second, you risk running into problems around compensation, where you have two CLSs who may have the same credentials and who work on the same bench doing the same job, but one is paid $35/hour while the traveling CLS is paid $55/hour.

Typically, the unequal pay gives the CLS being paid less a reason to resign. The laboratory may then hire them back as a “traveling CLS,” creating a situation where labs have “traveling CLSs” that only live 20 minutes from where they work. This practice can have a significant impact on lab budgeting and long-term stability of lab staffing. 

How do we fix this problem? If we look at the root cause, traveling professionals are hired to fill permanent job vacancies when permanent staff can’t be found. So, the best solution is to increase efforts to find permanent lab professionals to avoid relying on traveling ones and having to pay their unsustainably high compensation rates.

Job postings don’t work, but creative staffing does

As a recruitment firm, you would think we would post a lot of job postings, right? Wrong. I’ve often left job postings up on ZipRecruiter, Indeed, and LinkedIn for a month or two and didn’t receive a single solid applicant. Instead, clinical laboratories that are using creative staffing strategies are seeing success. Here are some examples:

Opening more PRN roles—I get asked about PRN roles a lot because these types of opportunities give CLSs a chance to work in a lab without fully committing so they can find out whether they’d like to work there full time. This often leads to a high conversion rate to new full-time hires and can be significantly less expensive then hiring traveling CLSs. 

Social media efforts—I get about 90 percent of my candidates from LinkedIn in response to my posts. Your lab can use social media to your advantage by posting pictures of fun stuff happening in your lab, such as potluck dinners, celebrating birthdays, or anything creative that shows your staff love working there. When other clinical professionals are on break or looking for a job change, these posts will get them interested in your lab, and they may apply to existing opportunities or reach out to inquire about future ones.