Medical lab technologists across Canada feeling the pressure of high job vacancies

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“There’s not enough students in school right now in Canada to replace those retiring’

The national organization representing medical laboratory technologists says the stress of job vacancies and limited backfill coverage being felt by Island MLTs are not uncommon in other provinces.

Medical laboratory technologists do diagnostic testing, lab tests, blood work, and biopsies that help diagnose and treat disease.

Christine Nielsen, CEO of the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science, said that 35 per cent of the society’s members report feeling stressed or burned out on a weekly basis while on the job.

“One of the things that we’ve been hearing from our members across Canada over the last few years is the toll that the workload as well as the absence of other staff are placing on them,” Nielsen said.
According to Neilsen, one of the biggest challenges within medical lab sciences in Canada is the aging national population. As the population gets older, she said, there are more people retiring from the profession met with an increasing demand for lab testing across the country.

“In Ontario, we were expecting a 1.8 per cent increase in lab testing and the number is actually four per cent.”

‘Not enough students’
A national CSMLS survey reported that 52 per cent of MLT respondents said there were regularly not enough people or staff to get the work done. Neilsen said while doctors and nurses often have locum staff to backfill for temporary leaves, MLTs across the country often don’t have the staff for this kind of short-term coverage.

The training for MLTs takes four years to complete followed by a compulsory certification exam.

“Only about 75 per cent of the people who come to the exam pass,” Neilsen said.

This sometimes makes it difficult for labs to recruit students, Neilsen said, because not every student is guaranteed to get their certification.

“There’s not enough students in school right now in Canada to replace those retiring,” she said.

“It’s particularly being felt in any place that’s community-based or rural or remote,” Neilsen said. “Urban settings are starting to see a decline, we’re having vacancies that are extended vacancies in Vancouver and Toronto now, which is a huge sign of the times. That never used to happen.”

No training on P.E.I.
One of the unique challenges for MLTs on P.E.I., according to Neilsen, is that there aren’t any training programs available on the Island.

“They don’t have a natural pipeline to recruit new blood, or new workers. They have to get students from one of the other 25 programs in Canada.”

She said wages for MLTs on P.E.I. are not the highest in the country, which puts it at a disadvantage when competing for new graduates with provinces like Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia

Neilsen said recruiting to the Island often requires people to move from other provinces, which makes filling short-term positions to cover maternity or temporary leave a challenge.

Island still in good position
A spokesperson from Health PEI said there are currently five full-time temporary vacancies due to maternity leaves or temporary assignment between the QEH and Prince County Hospital laboratories. One person will be returning full-time in March and another in July. The remaining staff are scheduled to return by early fall.

In the interim, these positions are being temporarily covered by a combination of locum medical laboratory technologists, medical laboratory assistants and the redistribution of some workload between laboratory sites.

Health PEI said these vacancies have had no impact on patient care. It said it’s confident the MLT staffing complement will be stable over the coming years with five Island students in the program in Nova Scotia and three in New Brunswick that the Island will be able to recruit.

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