March 17, 2009
Careers plentiful for students graduating with med tech degreesWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Even with a downturn in the economy, there is an increasing need for college graduates with degrees in medical technology, says a Purdue University expert.
The demand for medical technologists throughout the country is growing at a much faster rate than the number of those graduating, which could put the medical community in jeopardy, said David Tate, director of clinical laboratory sciences within the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences.
A recent study by the American Society for Clinical Pathology published in the March issue of LabMedicine confirms the shortage of medical technologists, reporting that half of all laboratories nationwide are struggling to hire lab personnel.
"Health care is seen as one of the few recession-proof job sectors, and medical technology is no exception," Tate said. "Medical technologists perform laboratory tests ranging from simple blood screens to more complex tests to detect diseases such as cancer, coronary artery disease and diabetes. Their work is crucial because so many decisions in hospitals and doctors' offices are based on lab results."
Many laboratories also employ a high percentage of baby boomers, and according to the study, 13 percent of the nation's current laboratory staff is likely to retire within the next five years. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that by 2012, 138,000 lab professionals will be needed, but fewer than 50,000 will be trained.
Many universities and clinical training sites around the nation have closed their programs due to the cost it takes to run them, Tate said. While Indiana has seven accredited clinical training sites - more than many other states - the number of accredited clinical training sites nationwide has dropped from around 400 to about 140-160.
The medical technology curriculum is set up differently than many other academic programs and is known as a "three-plus-one" program. Students study for three years and then spend one year at an affiliated and accredited clinical site of medical technology. The first three years of the program includes a background in the sciences and mathematics, with particular emphasis on biological sciences and chemistry.
During the fourth year, students spend 10-11 months at a clinical site, where they will get a combination of classroom and laboratory studies that provide hands-on experience in clinical chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunohematology or blood banking, molecular diagnostics, serology, histology, urinalysis, parasitology and instrumentation.
"The clinical year for students in the medical technology program is really different than a typical college semester," said Carla Clem, program director for the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program at Clarian Health in Indianapolis. "Students will be working for eight to nine hours a day learning in the classroom and the lab. While the program requires a lot of work and dedication, they will finish ready and well qualified for not only a lab position but also to take a national certification exam."
Tate said historically, medical technology graduates have experienced solid employment, and he looks for that to continue.
"In the past, our job placement rate for students with a medical technology degree has been 100 percent," he said. "Within the state, there are probably only 60 to 75 students a year who graduate from an Indiana-affiliated medical technology program. With the small number of graduates and an aging med tech work force, the need for them is great."
Upon completion of the Purdue medical technology program, students will be eligible to take the national registry examination for certification by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, which is required by many employers. Other students may elect to go on to earn a master's degree in public health or attend medical school, Tate said.
"Graduates go on to work in a wide array of positions, from hospitals to forensic labs to large animal sanctuaries," Tate said. "It's a great field for people who have an interest in science or medicine but don't necessarily want to work as nurses or physicians."
The starting salary for a medical technologist depends on the location, but many graduates earn from $35,000 to $43,000, he said. According to Salary.com, the median salary for ASCP-certified medical technologists in the United States is around $56,000.
Writer: Christy Jones, (765) 494-1089, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: David Tate, (765) 494-1392, email@example.com
Carla Clem, (317) 491-6217, firstname.lastname@example.org
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