Are You Cut Out for Lab Work?

Laboratory scientists are in demand as staffing challenges grow

People are drawn to lab work for different reasons. It may be the fascination of seeing organisms proliferate through the lens of a microscope, or the ability to perform a truly vital role in healthcare without having to deal with John Q. Patient. Lab workers are typically—or, perhaps, notoriously—sequestered in departments located in hospital basements, out of sight of patients and clinicians. For this very reason, some suggest lab work is less stressful than other public-facing branches of healthcare.

John Harol, CEO of Lighthouse Recruiting, which specializes in lab recruitment and placement, told ADVANCE it is smart for prospective laboratorians to understand something about the environment in which their careers will unfold, as well as traits of successful lab staffers.

“There is a certain personality type that decides to work in a clinical laboratory,” Harol noted. “I find them to be both nurturing and logical. According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology, roughly 70% percent of medical decisions are made based on laboratory results; medical laboratory scientists are the people who make those results possible. A frequent tongue-in-cheek joke in many clinical labs is, ‘Without the laboratory, your doctor would be guessing.’ There are few careers on earth in which someone has such a measurable impact on the healthcare of a community. Lab work affects thousands of people every day of every week.”

On the Job

Additionally, lab work is imbued with an intrinsic variety of tasks. According to information provided by the School of Health Sciences at Rasmussen College, “By its very nature, a healthcare job is a little unpredictable. You never know what kind of specimen will come through your window. Practically any body fluid or tissue gets processed in a medical lab. The results are virtually endless since all types of human samples come through a lab. For example, a blood sample can be analyzed for cancer tumor markers, blood ABO type, chemistry panels, pregnancy, alcohol and drug levels, bacterial infections, HIV, to name but a few.”

And yet, the world of a laboratorian is not all variety and surprises. The work itself can be continuously demanding in the most tedious of ways throughout a shift. Accurate, life-supporting and treatment-dependent results can only be obtained by working to exacting standards of quality and reproducibility each and every day.

What’s more, lab scientists should expect to work long hours—not always on a 9-to-5 schedule. Harol added, “There are other careers in which scientists can have a more reasonable work-to-life balance. If you decide to become a medical laboratory scientist you can be almost certain that you will miss a few social events because you will have to work an off-shift or a holiday. Sacrifice comes with the job.”

Harol also advised that a widely recognized laboratory staffing shortage is growing more critical by the day across the United States. “Most labs are significantly understaffed and those still working in the lab are having to pick up the slack,” he explained. “Staffs are stretched thin and managers are burning out. Better salaries and automation will help soften the blow, but there is still no true solution that has been identified.”

Of course the upside to the staffing problem is that there are openings across the country for laboratorians. Healthcare cannot exist without reliable lab results, and reliable results cannot be surfaced without a corps of equally reliable medical lab scientists.


  1. Rasmussen College. School of Health Sciences. Become an Essential Part of Patient Diagnosis.


About The Author