Graduates with a BS can earn a starting salary of $50,000 a year
In an economy that's still fighting toward recovery, medical technology students have something to smile about.
Growing opportunities in the health care field have created a demand for laboratory sciences professionals, particularly medical technologists who use their knowledge of applied biology and chemistry to help diagnose, treat and monitor diseases by performing diagnostic lab tests on patients.
Students who graduate from the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences with a BS in medical technology have found jobs with annual starting salaries of approximately $50,000. Some employers from outside of Western New York also provide moving allowances and/or sign-on bonuses as added attractions.
"There's a real greying of the medical technology profession," said Carol Golyski, clinical assistant professor and director of the medical technology program in the department of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences. "Because the average age of practicing laboratory professionals is around 50, there is much demand for young workers right now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be more jobs than graduates in this field through 2018."
A report published in March by the Center for Health Workforce Studies states a shortage of personnel is the biggest reason hospitals can't find clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. The report also projects a 9 percent increase in employment between 2010 and 2020.
According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology in New York, six out of nine laboratory departments surveyed reported that more than 10 percent of employees planned to retire within five years. And while New York requires approximately 640 new laboratory professionals every year, the state is producing only 237 graduates annually.
In 2012, the same shortage provided UB medical technology graduates with a 100 percent success rate in landing jobs in their field. The results of an informal survey of the graduates of 2013 are just as promising. Of the 21 out of 25 alumni who responded to the survey:
•20 graduates found employment as a medical technologist.
•Of those 20, 16 are employed in Western New York, three elsewhere in New York and one in Colorado.
UB medical technology graduates also exceed the national first-time pass rate for the ASCP board of certification examinations, says Golyski.
Last year, UB's department of pathology and anatomical sciences began working to address the shortage of lab science professionals by developing a partnership with the ASCP to boost funding for state clinical lab science programs.
"There is wide recognition of the current demographic challenges in the field and that they are only going to get worse," said John Tomaszewski, MD, professor and chair of the UB department of pathology and anatomical sciences, who hopes to double the number of students in these programs in five years.
"We're taking a marketplace view of what needs to happen: There are jobs available now and there will be many more jobs available in the future, but there won't be people to fill them," he said. "That's why there needs to be a statewide investment in training more teachers, in lab equipment and hands-on training of future lab professionals."
Tomaszewski adds the Affordable Care Act will add to the demand by providing health care coverage to nearly 30 million people, who could each receive, on average, two blood tests a year.
"That's a lot of lab tests," Tomaszewski said.
The 132-credit hour medical technology program at UB provides a lab-intensive curriculum and a 10-to-1 student-to-instructor ratio in lab courses, which includes graduate teaching assistants.
The program draws heavily upon the resources of both the UB natural sciences and health sciences faculties for courses covering clinical chemistry, microbiology, hematology, medical genetics and more.
In their final semester, students complete 15 weeks of clinical rotations at affiliated labs and hospitals throughout Western New York, allowing them to learn a variety of laboratory techniques and experience a range of clinical settings.
Most students go on to use their skills in hospitals, public health labs, veterinary labs, pharmaceutical labs, physicians' offices, research institutions and more. Many alumni also put their knowledge to use in the marketing and sales departments of pharmaceutical companies and lab instrument manufacturers, while others build careers in police forensics or in developing laboratory computer applications.