Staffing Challenges in the Histology Lab

Industry Topics efficient histology labs, histology automation

Staffing Challenges in the Histology Lab

The results of the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2016-2017 Vacancy Survey of Medical Laboratories in the United States were published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology’s May 2018 issue. Some of the results pertaining to Anatomic Pathology and Histology were quite surprising; in many cases the vacancy rates halved since the survey was last conducted in 2014.

Take a look:

2014 2016
Overall Vacancy Rate – Anatomic Pathology 10.39% 4.7%
Overall Vacancy Rate – Histology 9.27% 5.6%
Staff (non-supervisory) Vacancy Rate – Anatomic Pathology 10.86% 5.0%
Staff (non-supervisory) Vacancy Rate – Histology 10.2% 5.97%
Supervisor Vacancy Rate – Anatomic Pathology 6.55% 2.16%
Supervisor Vacancy Rate – Histology 3.86 3.03%

Overall, this data makes one think that anatomic pathology and histology laboratories have solved their staffing issues, but many laboratory managers state that they are having trouble finding histologists to fill open positions, and histologists feel they are busier than ever with a heavy daily workload.

What is the discrepancy? How has the vacancy rate for anatomic pathology and histology laboratories decreased so dramatically in just two years? There are two main reasons identified by the article:

  • Laboratories are doing more with less staff. Overall, histologists are working harder than ever, meeting daily quotas for blocks cut and cases processed. This is aided by automation, which, according to the article, “allows lower level staff to perform routine testing, leaving the technologists to focus on verifying and running tests”.
  • Laboratories are filling in with lower level staff. In addition to using lower level staff to operate automated equipment, the article states that supervisors are compelled to “hire lower level applicants immediately after graduation or those with bachelor’s degrees but not trained in a laboratory training program.” This can be a particular challenge in anatomic pathology and histology, where histotechnician (HT) and histotechnologist (HTL) degrees are preferred.

Hiring Challenges Remain in Histology Laboratories

Despite the data published in this article, hiring challenges remain. Pam Barker, President/Senior Recruiting for Specialist-Histology for RELIA Solutions (Facebook, LinkedIn), hasn’t noticed the decrease in vacancy rates. “My experience is that the vacancies have been pretty steady for the past four years,” says Barker. “It is possible that mergers and reorganization of some of the larger laboratories has changed the data, but from my experience for most laboratories the demand for histotechs has remained steady. It seems there are always plenty of histology positions it’s just a matter of where and what the parameters are, for example, state licensure requirements, compensation, cost of living, access to histology schools, and schedule.”

Retirement rates anticipated for the next five years for both histology and anatomic pathology remain high at 17.02% and 15.83%, respectively. This indicates that the fields are expected to see some of their most experienced histologists retire, losing a good deal of collective knowledge. Retirement rates for supervisors are even higher, at 23.12% for histology and 30.25% for anatomic pathology, meaning that laboratories will need to move other experienced histologists out of daily labwork and into management.

Recruitment can be challenging as well. Laboratory managers state that their top challenge is better pay and/or benefits at other area laboratories. This was also stated by The Ohio State University’s Anatomic Pathology Operations Director Bonnie Whitaker in our Histology Thought Leader interview with her.

Despite the data provided by the ASCP survey, the opinion of histologists, supervisors, and recruiters that are close to the field say that histologists are still doing more with less histotechs, retirement rates continue to be high, and recruitment is challenging. Add to this the fact that histology and anatomic pathology are fields that are prone to injury and comprise an aging workforce, it will be interesting to see if the 2018-2019 data reflects these challenges, or if the reported vacancy rates remain low.

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