How to Drive Workforce Development in the Face of New Technology

Workforce development

How to Drive Workforce Development in the Face of New Technology

Most healthcare organizations are dealing with rapid changes in their clinical labs—new technologies, new services, new organizational expectations. They're also facing inevitable changes in their lab staff, particularly at the managerial level, as many personnel approach retirement. To address the full range of challenges, the lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is developing a formal succession planning process to fill key posts in an orderly way, including that of its Chief of Lab Medicine, Michael Bennett, PhD, whose retirement is not that far off.

"Many people who work as lab techs really only need to give two weeks notice," Bennett says. "Imagine how disastrous it would be if someone left with only two weeks notice and we had no plan to replace them."

CHOP, with 516 beds, was the nation's first hospital devoted exclusively to the care of children, and it has been the source of countless breakthroughs and firsts in pediatrics since its founding in 1855. CHOP-affiliated researchers study everything from cancer immunotherapy drugs to sickle cell disease to autism. The organization is also a leader in improving health in its community. Maintaining its leadership role is a top priority.

 

Article highlights:

  • Many hospital labs must plan to replace key staff members nearing retirement

  • Succession planning involves cultivating leadership among promising younger staff

  • New technologies need staff with new skill sets

Contributing Lab Leaders

 

 

 

Michael Kress

Michael Bennett, Ph.D.

Professor of Pathology and Lab Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Chief of Lab Medicine at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and currently the President of AACC

 

 

 

Developing Future Leaders

Bennett says the CHOP lab is starting to identify future leaders among its younger, midlevel staff, and then grooming them to take over as older managers retire or move on to high-level positions at other institutions. "That's a risk, of course, because these are potentially leaders who could be leading elsewhere," he says. But the alternative is a leadership vacuum just as the lab is in the middle of making big changes. With the backing of a department chair who believes in succession planning, Bennett has set a goal of retaining the identified future leaders until appropriate slots are available for them.

 

 

New Career Pathways

The department is also creating entirely new career pathways to accommodate new technologies, equipment, and types of testing. "We're looking for a different set of skills in our hires," Bennett says. Mass spectrometry, for example, is used increasingly to supplement or replace traditional lab testing, as the focus of testing and treatment moves to the molecular level. But Bennett says traditional lab career pathways can result in a dead-end for workers with mass spectrometry skills, who may take their expertise elsewhere if there's no prospect of promotion. "We have the same problem with next-generation sequencing individuals," Bennett says. CHOP is creating ways to retain those highly specialized workers by giving them opportunities for more responsibilities.

 

 

 

Planning Far Ahead

Aside from purely technical roles, the CHOP lab depends heavily on a skilled group of point-of-care coordinators to integrate its activities with the care process. Bennett particularly dreads losing one "absolutely outstanding" coordinator who has signaled her desire to retire and spend more time with her grandchildren. He feels fortunate that she has given him two years to find and develop a successor for her, and believes he'll need every bit of that time.

"Because of the skill sets that a really good point-of-care coordinator needs to have, we're having to do the succession planning for this person long in advance," he says. "We cannot wait."

Even for himself, Bennett expects it will take more than a standard academic year, the customary period for someone at his level, to find his successor. He fears that without someone ready to step in, the lab will lose its momentum, and ideally he would like to overlap with his successor. "Clearly there isn't a middle-level person to replace me at the moment," he says. "We're actually trying to convince the authorities that they need to hire someone to be ready to take over. We should all take succession planning very seriously to keep us at the cutting edge."

Change, whether it's from new technologies, new processes, or other new challenges, is inevitable—but with the right planning, labs can be ready for it with the right people ready to step in at the right moment.

 

 


Additional resources

  • Effective Use of Mass Spectrometry in the Clinical Laboratory
    by Paul J. Jannetto, Robert L. Fitzgerald
    Historically the success of mass spectrometry in the clinical laboratory has focused on drugs of abuse confirmations, newborn screening, and steroid analysis. Clinical applications of mass spectrometry continue to expand, and mass spectrometry is now being used in almost all areas of laboratory medicine.

  • Clinical Laboratory Personnel Shortage
    In 2016, the Bureau of Labor statistics anticipated needed growth of 12,000 new medical laboratory professionals per year to meet growing demand. However, academic programs currently produce just 5,000 graduates per year.

  • Building a Laboratory Workforce to Meet the Future: ASCP Task Force on the Laboratory Professionals Workforce
    by Andrea Bennett, Edna Garcia, Matthew Schulze, Mark Bailey, Kay Doyle, William Finn, Dave Glenn, Blair Holladay, Jeff Jacobs, Steven Kroft, Sara Patterson, Junell Petersen, Patricia Tanabe, Sue Zaleski
    A comprehensive strategy to address the future workforce needs of the nation’s medical laboratories to meet this demand to provide timely, accurate, and safe patient care and to fully realize the benefits of personalized medicine.

 

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