A new report released by the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) warns that a shortage of medical laboratory technologists will result in longer waiting times for test results and impede physicians’ ability to diagnose and treat their patients. Approximately half of Canada’s medical laboratory technologists will be eligible to retire within the next ten years. Canada is not producing a sufficient number of new graduates to replace those who will retire due to cutbacks in medical laboratory technology training programs in the 1990s. The report predicts that the shortage will peak at a time when demand for medical testing is expected to increase due to aging of Canada’ s population.
'The literature suggests that approximately 85 per cent of all diagnostic decisions made by physicians are based on laboratory results,' says CSMLS executive director Kurt Davis. 'A shortage of medical laboratory technologists will increase turnaround times for test results and have a negative impact on the quality of diagnostic testing, especially if employers resort to using unqualified personnel.'
'The report, Medical Laboratory Technologists National Human Resources Review – Nation-wide Alert,' repeats earlier calls on federal and provincial governments to take immediate steps to rebuild the education system for medical laboratory technologists in Canada. At least 300 new training positions will be required within the next decade. Mr. Davis says that funding for new training positions is only part of the solution to a much larger problem. 'Not only do we need additional training program positions in almost every province, we need to ensure that those positions are filled. That’s why we are recommending a national campaign to recruit young people into careers in medical laboratory science,' says Davis.
The risk of a severe shortage is greatest in Nova Scotia where there is no training program for medical laboratory technologists. 'We are extremely concerned about the situation in Nova Scotia and urge the government to take immediate steps to establish a training program,' says Mr. Davis.
Other recommendations include:
- establishment of a new training program in British Columbia
- establishment of at least two new training programs in Ontario, one of which should be located in the North
- doubling of training positions in existing programs in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
- careful monitoring of the human resource supply in Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec. Adjustments in the number of training programs will likely be required due to the increased demand for medical testing by an aging population.
- additional training positions for PEI students in neighboring Atlantic training programs
CSMLS has been warning governments about the human resource shortage since 1998. A report commissioned in 1999 by the Advisory Committee on Health Human Resources – a federal-provincial advisory group—predicted a shortage of medical laboratory technologists within five to ten years. It made three key recommendations:
- establishment of a national data base to identify the scope of the problem and define the short- and long-term needs
- coordination and sharing of labour market information to help determine accurate projections at least three to five years in advance
- coordination and sharing of educational program information to ensure that a sufficient number of positions are available to train future medical laboratory technologists
In May 2001, CSMLS published its first comprehensive human resources report, Medical Laboratory Technologists National Human Resources Review - A Call for Action. The report urged the federal government to take action on the recommendations made by the ACHHR and to develop an integrated human resources plan for all health care disciplines. Mr. Davis says that while some progress has been made, it has been slow and limited in scope. 'Shortages are going to occur in all health care disciplines. Federal and provincial governments must work together to ensure that Canada has a sufficient number of qualified professionals to meet the health care needs of Canadians.'
CSMLS is the national certifying body for medical laboratory technologists and a voluntary professional association for medical laboratory professionals – Canada’s third largest group of health care providers.