…when it comes to funding and resources. And this will have serious ramifications for your health. In talking to a hospital clinical microbiologist today, he told me that microbiology labs in hospitals and states are suffering from two problems.
The first problem is that, unlike the Chemistry and Hematology laboratories which have been able to cut their personnel due to technological advances, most of the work done in microbiology laboratories is still labor intensive. Most microbiological diagnoses require isolating strains to pure cultures, and there’s no rapid or cheap way to do this. This means that the laboratories are cutting back to ‘essential’ tests, increasing the risk of a delayed or faulty diagnosis.
The second problem is that qualified medical/microbiology technicians are difficult to find. Many of the programs that used to train techinicians are closing due to low enrollment. Why are so few students enrolling? Because the pay sucks. A nurse with an equivalent amount of schooling can make twice as much as a medical technician. Nurses have strong, aggressive unions, while the medical technicians do not.
So what does this mean? Medical technicians are some of the oldest employees at hospitals and public laboratories, and within five to ten years, we will have a shortage of qualified techinicians. It also means that we will be less likely to recruit quality personnel to these positions. Ironically, as these labs become more technically sophisticated, the need for talented personnel becomes all the more critical. As state and federal budgets continue to get hammered (unless one is in the bioterrorism or biopreparedness bidness), the odds that medical techicians will see their salaries increase significantly are pretty slim. It doesn’t look like this problem is going to be resolved anytime soon.
And remember: these are the people who will run the tests that your doctor uses to diagnose you.